Berkeley Fiction Review, Volume 8

Page 1

B E R K E L E Y N U M B E R

F I C T I O N

E I G H T

WORKS BY AND INTERVIEWS WITH

SEAMUS HEANEY NEIL JORDAN JOHN MONTAGUE SEAMUS DEANE BRENDAN KENNELLY

R E V I E W F A L L

1 9 8 8


BERKELEY FICTION REVIEW NUMBER EIGHT

FALL 1988


C O N T E N T S

BERKELEY FICTION REVIEW NUMBER EIGHT FALL 1988 3 15 19

SENIOR EDITORS: JAMES PENNER SEAN LOCKE

J

EDITORIAL STAFF: ANDREW KAPLAN SEAN CONNER MARK LANDSMAN HEATHER STATEN READERS:

25 26 29

NAOMI ALOUF CHARLES BEDFORD ELIZABETH LEAKE CHRISTOPHER GREGER

31

We gratefully acknowledge the assistance of the Associated Students of the University of California (ASUC), and the Small Publications Grant Committee of the University of California at Berkeley.

45

Copyright 1988 by the Berkeley Fiction Review. All rights reserved. Typeset at The Cooperative Type, Berkeley, California.

51 55 77 85 86

Designed by Sean Locke. Section page illustrations by Anthony Dubovsky.

89 94

Special thanks to Jacqueline Gallo, ASUC Publications Advisor.

FICTION Full ofLife (excerpt) The Big Pasture Uncertain Oases POETRY /. After Morocco II. Muezzin The Pardon for Ezra Pound waitinfo riga

JOHNFANTE BRETT REITEN MARK LANDSMAN

CHRISTOPHER GRE DAVID GEWANTER OLIVER X

SPECIAL SECTION: CONTEMPORARY IRISH LITERATURE Interview with Seamus Heaney GAVIN KOSTICK& JAMES PENNER Wild Dog Rose Pilgrim's Pad JOHN MONTAGUE Interview with Brendan Kennelly JAMES PENNER Aisling Reading Paradise Lost in Protestant Ulster 1987 SEAMUS DEANE Interview with Neil Jordan JAMES PENNER Work in Progress NEIL JORDAN BOOK REVIEW

Address submissions & correspondence to: Berkeley Fiction Review 700 Eshleman Hall University of California Berkeley, CA 94720

L

101

Seamus Heaney The Haw Lantern

107

CONTRIBUTORS

ROBERT TRACEY


C O N T E N T S

BERKELEY FICTION REVIEW NUMBER EIGHT FALL 1988 3 15 19

SENIOR EDITORS: JAMES PENNER SEAN LOCKE

J

EDITORIAL STAFF: ANDREW KAPLAN SEAN CONNER MARK LANDSMAN HEATHER STATEN READERS:

25 26 29

NAOMI ALOUF CHARLES BEDFORD ELIZABETH LEAKE CHRISTOPHER GREGER

31

We gratefully acknowledge the assistance of the Associated Students of the University of California (ASUC), and the Small Publications Grant Committee of the University of California at Berkeley.

45

Copyright 1988 by the Berkeley Fiction Review. All rights reserved. Typeset at The Cooperative Type, Berkeley, California.

51 55 77 85 86

Designed by Sean Locke. Section page illustrations by Anthony Dubovsky.

89 94

Special thanks to Jacqueline Gallo, ASUC Publications Advisor.

FICTION Full ofLife (excerpt) The Big Pasture Uncertain Oases POETRY /. After Morocco II. Muezzin The Pardon for Ezra Pound waitinfo riga

JOHNFANTE BRETT REITEN MARK LANDSMAN

CHRISTOPHER GRE DAVID GEWANTER OLIVER X

SPECIAL SECTION: CONTEMPORARY IRISH LITERATURE Interview with Seamus Heaney GAVIN KOSTICK& JAMES PENNER Wild Dog Rose Pilgrim's Pad JOHN MONTAGUE Interview with Brendan Kennelly JAMES PENNER Aisling Reading Paradise Lost in Protestant Ulster 1987 SEAMUS DEANE Interview with Neil Jordan JAMES PENNER Work in Progress NEIL JORDAN BOOK REVIEW

Address submissions & correspondence to: Berkeley Fiction Review 700 Eshleman Hall University of California Berkeley, CA 94720

L

101

Seamus Heaney The Haw Lantern

107

CONTRIBUTORS

ROBERT TRACEY


FICTION


FICTION


An

Excerpt

from

F u l l

o f

L i f e

J O H N F A N T E

M

Y Mama and Papa lived in San Juan, in the Sacramento Valley, a dozen miles down the road from the state capitol. They were in halcyon retirement now, drawing state pensions, floating through the most placid passage of their lives. They lived in a four-room redwood cottage, with a capacious fig tree shading the backyard. A dozen hens clucked in the chicken yard, loft fowl, glutted by fallen figs and luscious Tokays from vines menacing the back fence. These hens deboucjhed massive eggs whose warmth Mama loved against her palms in ironic nostalgia, for there was oace a time in the life of this mother when children outnumbered the eggs. On a barrel under the fig tree slept Papa's four cats, glistening Egyptian deities, sleek from beef hearts, calves' brains and milk. These four cats had replaced four children who had grown up to leave the Valley and marry and acquire enfeebled eyes and partial dentures because in that earlier time work was scarce and Papa never earned enough to feed his children regularly on beef hearts, calves' brains and milk. They lived in serene loneliness, my Papa and Mama, reading the Sacra-


An

Excerpt

from

F u l l

o f

L i f e

J O H N F A N T E

M

Y Mama and Papa lived in San Juan, in the Sacramento Valley, a dozen miles down the road from the state capitol. They were in halcyon retirement now, drawing state pensions, floating through the most placid passage of their lives. They lived in a four-room redwood cottage, with a capacious fig tree shading the backyard. A dozen hens clucked in the chicken yard, loft fowl, glutted by fallen figs and luscious Tokays from vines menacing the back fence. These hens deboucjhed massive eggs whose warmth Mama loved against her palms in ironic nostalgia, for there was oace a time in the life of this mother when children outnumbered the eggs. On a barrel under the fig tree slept Papa's four cats, glistening Egyptian deities, sleek from beef hearts, calves' brains and milk. These four cats had replaced four children who had grown up to leave the Valley and marry and acquire enfeebled eyes and partial dentures because in that earlier time work was scarce and Papa never earned enough to feed his children regularly on beef hearts, calves' brains and milk. They lived in serene loneliness, my Papa and Mama, reading the Sacra-


mento Bee and listening to the radio, gathering eggs and raking the big green leaves, two people in their late sixties, eager for the postman who no longer terrified them with bills and too seldom arrived with letters from the children who were gorie. It wasn't necessary for Stella to write. She and her husband lived on a farm outside San Juan and came twice a week with baskets of zucchini, tomatos, peaches, oranges, and butter. Stella brought her little girls, and on hot afternoons Papa sat with them under the fig tree, sneaking them sips of iced wine, telling them stories, and wondering why in the name of Our Lady of Mount Carmel he had no grandsons. For Papa was sixty-seven, and though he admired the non-Italian girls his sons had married, he also suspected them of trickery in the matter of procreation, of not knowing how to work at it. Life without grandsons was not life at all. Sitting under the fig tree, Papa tilted the claret jugfromhis shoulder, lapped the cool wine and brooded. In the late afternoon the mailman drove by, and Mama would be at the gate near the box, waiting, pretending to pull weeds here and there. If there was no mail, she pulled another weed or two, peered nervously down the road toward Sacramento, and came back to the house, wincing on arthritic feet. Day after day Papa watched this happen. Finally his patience would break. "Bring pen and ink!" Dutifully Mama would come from the house with a tablet and writing materials, set them on the barrel under the fig tree, and settle herself to take another letter from Papa to her three sons: one in Seattle, another in Susanville, and the third in the South. They were letters she never sent, a gesture of appeasement, because Papa derived much satisfaction from the dictation, it soothed his nerves as he paced back and forth through the hissing leaves, now and then stopping to take thoughtful gulps of claret. "Send it to all of them. Write it plain. Put it down just like I told you. Don't change a word." She would dip the pen, her knees against the barrel, as she sat uncomfortably on an apple box.

have a good time while you're young. Laugh and play and think about your mother some time. Makes no difference about yourfather. He never did nee your help. But your mother gets lonesome. Have a good time. Laugh and play. Yours truly, Nick Fante And when Mama was finished, he would sip from the jug, smack his lips, and add: "Send it air mail." «««

I reached San Juan at noon, flying up from Burbank and taking the bus out of Sacramento. The folks lived at the edge of town, where the city pavement ended and the last street light was a hundred feet away. Walking down the road past the old board fence, I could see Papa under the fig tree. His drawing board was spread over the barrel; on it were pencils, rulers, a Tsquare. The cats slept in the swing, piled in hot furry confusion. Hearing the whine of the gate, Papa turned, his phlegmatic eyes squinting for range through waves of gossamer heat. It was my first visit in six months. Except for his vision, he was superb. He had thick bricky hands and a sun-baked neck, handsome as sewer pipe. I was within fifty feet of him before he recognizes me. I dropped my overnight bag and put out my hand. "Hello, Papa." He had the hands of Beelzebub, homy and calloused, the gnarled oftbroken fingers of a bricklayer. He looked down at the grip. "What you got in there?" "Shirts and things." He inspected me carefully. "New suit?" "Fairly new." "How much?" I told him. "Too much." Dear Sons: Emotion was piling up inside him. He was very glad I had come home, Your mother isfine.Fmfine too. We don't need you boys anymore. So but he tried not to show it, his chin trembling. "Smell the peppers? Mama's frying peppers." have a good time, laugh and play, andforget all about your father. Ifs your From the back porch it came, a river of ambrosial redolence, fresh green mother. Your father worked hard to buy you shoes and put you through school. He don't regret nothing. He don't need anything. So have a good peppers sizzling in goldeo olive oil, charmed with thefragranceof garlic and time, boys, laugh and play, but think about your mother some time. Write herthe balm of rosemary, all of it mingled with the scent of magnolias and the a letter. Don't write to your father because he don't needit, but your moth- deep green richness of vineyards in the back country. "Smells good. How you feel, Papa?" er's getting old now, boys. You know how they get when they get old. So

JOHNFANTE

BERKELEY FICTION REVIEW


mento Bee and listening to the radio, gathering eggs and raking the big green leaves, two people in their late sixties, eager for the postman who no longer terrified them with bills and too seldom arrived with letters from the children who were gorie. It wasn't necessary for Stella to write. She and her husband lived on a farm outside San Juan and came twice a week with baskets of zucchini, tomatos, peaches, oranges, and butter. Stella brought her little girls, and on hot afternoons Papa sat with them under the fig tree, sneaking them sips of iced wine, telling them stories, and wondering why in the name of Our Lady of Mount Carmel he had no grandsons. For Papa was sixty-seven, and though he admired the non-Italian girls his sons had married, he also suspected them of trickery in the matter of procreation, of not knowing how to work at it. Life without grandsons was not life at all. Sitting under the fig tree, Papa tilted the claret jugfromhis shoulder, lapped the cool wine and brooded. In the late afternoon the mailman drove by, and Mama would be at the gate near the box, waiting, pretending to pull weeds here and there. If there was no mail, she pulled another weed or two, peered nervously down the road toward Sacramento, and came back to the house, wincing on arthritic feet. Day after day Papa watched this happen. Finally his patience would break. "Bring pen and ink!" Dutifully Mama would come from the house with a tablet and writing materials, set them on the barrel under the fig tree, and settle herself to take another letter from Papa to her three sons: one in Seattle, another in Susanville, and the third in the South. They were letters she never sent, a gesture of appeasement, because Papa derived much satisfaction from the dictation, it soothed his nerves as he paced back and forth through the hissing leaves, now and then stopping to take thoughtful gulps of claret. "Send it to all of them. Write it plain. Put it down just like I told you. Don't change a word." She would dip the pen, her knees against the barrel, as she sat uncomfortably on an apple box.

have a good time while you're young. Laugh and play and think about your mother some time. Makes no difference about yourfather. He never did nee your help. But your mother gets lonesome. Have a good time. Laugh and play. Yours truly, Nick Fante And when Mama was finished, he would sip from the jug, smack his lips, and add: "Send it air mail." «««

I reached San Juan at noon, flying up from Burbank and taking the bus out of Sacramento. The folks lived at the edge of town, where the city pavement ended and the last street light was a hundred feet away. Walking down the road past the old board fence, I could see Papa under the fig tree. His drawing board was spread over the barrel; on it were pencils, rulers, a Tsquare. The cats slept in the swing, piled in hot furry confusion. Hearing the whine of the gate, Papa turned, his phlegmatic eyes squinting for range through waves of gossamer heat. It was my first visit in six months. Except for his vision, he was superb. He had thick bricky hands and a sun-baked neck, handsome as sewer pipe. I was within fifty feet of him before he recognizes me. I dropped my overnight bag and put out my hand. "Hello, Papa." He had the hands of Beelzebub, homy and calloused, the gnarled oftbroken fingers of a bricklayer. He looked down at the grip. "What you got in there?" "Shirts and things." He inspected me carefully. "New suit?" "Fairly new." "How much?" I told him. "Too much." Dear Sons: Emotion was piling up inside him. He was very glad I had come home, Your mother isfine.Fmfine too. We don't need you boys anymore. So but he tried not to show it, his chin trembling. "Smell the peppers? Mama's frying peppers." have a good time, laugh and play, andforget all about your father. Ifs your From the back porch it came, a river of ambrosial redolence, fresh green mother. Your father worked hard to buy you shoes and put you through school. He don't regret nothing. He don't need anything. So have a good peppers sizzling in goldeo olive oil, charmed with thefragranceof garlic and time, boys, laugh and play, but think about your mother some time. Write herthe balm of rosemary, all of it mingled with the scent of magnolias and the a letter. Don't write to your father because he don't needit, but your moth- deep green richness of vineyards in the back country. "Smells good. How you feel, Papa?" er's getting old now, boys. You know how they get when they get old. So

JOHNFANTE

BERKELEY FICTION REVIEW


n 1 I

pink tongues. "Holy, Mother of Heaven! So this is the end of the Fante line." "I think it's a boy." "You think!" He cursed me, a scathing coruscation offirecrackerItalian. He spat at my feet, sneering at my gabardine and my sport moccasins. He took the stub of a Toscanelli cigarfromhis shirt and jammed it into his teeth. He lit up, flung the match away. "You think! Who asked you to think? I told you: oysters. Eggs. I been through it I give you advice from experience. What you been eating - candy, ice cream? Writer! Bah! You stink like the plague." This was my Papa for sure. He had not shrunk, after alL And the fig tree was as big as ever. "Go see your Mama." There was sarcasm in his voice. "Go tell her what a fine big boy she's got."

He was shrinking. Every year he receded a little, or so it seemed. Neither of us were tall men, but now in his late years he gave me the sense of being taller than he was. The yard was smaller too, and I was surprized at the fig tree. It was not nearly as big as I imagined. "The baby. How's the little bambino?" "Six weeks more or less." "And Miss Joyce?" He worshipped her. He could not bring himself to call her simply by her name. "She's fine." "She carry him high?" He touched the chest. "Or low?" His hand dropped to his stomach. "High. Way up, Papa." "Good. Little boy, that means." "I don't know." "How you mean, don't know?" "You can't be sure of these things." "You can, if you do the right thing." Hefrowned,looked straight into my eyes. "You've been eating plenty eggs, like!told you?" "I don't like eggs, Papa." He sighed and shook his head. "Remember what I told you? Eat plenty of eggs. Three, four, every day. Otherwise, it's a girl." He made a face as he added: "You want a girl?" "I'd like a boy, Papa. But you have to take what you get." It worried him. Back and forth he paced through the fig leaves. "That's no way to talk. That's no good." "But Papa..." He whirled around. "Don't but me. Don't Papa me! I told you, and I told you, all of you: Jim, Tony, you. I said eggs. Plenty eggs. Look at them. Jim: nothing. Married two years. Tony: nothing. Married three years. And you. What you got? Nothing." He moved close to me, his face near mine, his claret breath bursting at me. "Remember what I said about oysters? You got money now. You can afford oysters." I remember a post card dictated to Mama and sent to Joyce and me on our honeymoon at Lake Tahoe. The card said I should eat oysters twice a week to induce fertility and the conception of male children. But I had not followed the advice because I didn't like oysters. I had no personal animosity toward oysters. I simply didn't like their taste. "I don't care for oysters, Papa." It staggered him. With a limp neck and open jaws, he flung himself into the swing and wiped his forehead. The cats wakened, yawning with sharp

4ÂŤÂŤ Greeting Mama was always the most difficult task of a homecoming. My mama was the fainting type, specially if we had been away more than three months. Inside three months there was some control over the situation. Then she teetered dangerously and appeared about to fall over, giving us time to catch her before the collapse. An absence of a month entailed no problem at all. She merely wept for a few moments before the usual barrage of questions. But this was a six-month interval and experience had taught me not to burst in on her. The technique was to enter on tiptoe, put your arms around her from behind, quietly announce yourself, and wait for her knees to buckle. Otherwise she would gasp, "Oh, thank God!" and go plummeting to the floor like, a stone. Once on the floor she had a trick of sagging in every joint like a mass of quicksilver, and it was impossible to lift her. After futile pawing and grunting on the part of the returned son she got to her feet by her own power and immediately started cooking big dinners. Mama loved fainting. She did it with great artistry. All she needed was a cue. Mama loved dying, too. Once or twice a year, and specially at Christmas time, the telegrams would come, announcing that Mama was dying again. But we could not risk the possibility that for once it was true. From all over the Far West we would- rush to San Juan to be at her bedside. For a couple of hours she would die, making a clatter of saucers in her throat, showing only the whites of her eyes, calling us by name as she entered the valley of shadows. Suddenly she would feel much better, crawl out of her death bed, and cook up a huge ravioli dinner. She was at the stove, her back to me, as I entered the kitchen and moved BERjKELEY FICTION REVIEW

JOHNFANTE l


n 1 I

pink tongues. "Holy, Mother of Heaven! So this is the end of the Fante line." "I think it's a boy." "You think!" He cursed me, a scathing coruscation offirecrackerItalian. He spat at my feet, sneering at my gabardine and my sport moccasins. He took the stub of a Toscanelli cigarfromhis shirt and jammed it into his teeth. He lit up, flung the match away. "You think! Who asked you to think? I told you: oysters. Eggs. I been through it I give you advice from experience. What you been eating - candy, ice cream? Writer! Bah! You stink like the plague." This was my Papa for sure. He had not shrunk, after alL And the fig tree was as big as ever. "Go see your Mama." There was sarcasm in his voice. "Go tell her what a fine big boy she's got."

He was shrinking. Every year he receded a little, or so it seemed. Neither of us were tall men, but now in his late years he gave me the sense of being taller than he was. The yard was smaller too, and I was surprized at the fig tree. It was not nearly as big as I imagined. "The baby. How's the little bambino?" "Six weeks more or less." "And Miss Joyce?" He worshipped her. He could not bring himself to call her simply by her name. "She's fine." "She carry him high?" He touched the chest. "Or low?" His hand dropped to his stomach. "High. Way up, Papa." "Good. Little boy, that means." "I don't know." "How you mean, don't know?" "You can't be sure of these things." "You can, if you do the right thing." Hefrowned,looked straight into my eyes. "You've been eating plenty eggs, like!told you?" "I don't like eggs, Papa." He sighed and shook his head. "Remember what I told you? Eat plenty of eggs. Three, four, every day. Otherwise, it's a girl." He made a face as he added: "You want a girl?" "I'd like a boy, Papa. But you have to take what you get." It worried him. Back and forth he paced through the fig leaves. "That's no way to talk. That's no good." "But Papa..." He whirled around. "Don't but me. Don't Papa me! I told you, and I told you, all of you: Jim, Tony, you. I said eggs. Plenty eggs. Look at them. Jim: nothing. Married two years. Tony: nothing. Married three years. And you. What you got? Nothing." He moved close to me, his face near mine, his claret breath bursting at me. "Remember what I said about oysters? You got money now. You can afford oysters." I remember a post card dictated to Mama and sent to Joyce and me on our honeymoon at Lake Tahoe. The card said I should eat oysters twice a week to induce fertility and the conception of male children. But I had not followed the advice because I didn't like oysters. I had no personal animosity toward oysters. I simply didn't like their taste. "I don't care for oysters, Papa." It staggered him. With a limp neck and open jaws, he flung himself into the swing and wiped his forehead. The cats wakened, yawning with sharp

4ÂŤÂŤ Greeting Mama was always the most difficult task of a homecoming. My mama was the fainting type, specially if we had been away more than three months. Inside three months there was some control over the situation. Then she teetered dangerously and appeared about to fall over, giving us time to catch her before the collapse. An absence of a month entailed no problem at all. She merely wept for a few moments before the usual barrage of questions. But this was a six-month interval and experience had taught me not to burst in on her. The technique was to enter on tiptoe, put your arms around her from behind, quietly announce yourself, and wait for her knees to buckle. Otherwise she would gasp, "Oh, thank God!" and go plummeting to the floor like, a stone. Once on the floor she had a trick of sagging in every joint like a mass of quicksilver, and it was impossible to lift her. After futile pawing and grunting on the part of the returned son she got to her feet by her own power and immediately started cooking big dinners. Mama loved fainting. She did it with great artistry. All she needed was a cue. Mama loved dying, too. Once or twice a year, and specially at Christmas time, the telegrams would come, announcing that Mama was dying again. But we could not risk the possibility that for once it was true. From all over the Far West we would- rush to San Juan to be at her bedside. For a couple of hours she would die, making a clatter of saucers in her throat, showing only the whites of her eyes, calling us by name as she entered the valley of shadows. Suddenly she would feel much better, crawl out of her death bed, and cook up a huge ravioli dinner. She was at the stove, her back to me, as I entered the kitchen and moved BERjKELEY FICTION REVIEW

JOHNFANTE l


quietly toward her. Midway, she sensed my presence, turning slowly, a spatula in her hand. A kind of nausea seemed to grip her, a disembodiment, the elevator zooming down out of control, the dizzy moment before the plunge from a great height; her eyes rolled, the blood fled from her quick white face, the strength left her fingers and the spatula hit the floor. "Johnny! Oh, thank God!" I rushed forward and she fell into my arms, her hair the color of white clouds at my shoulder, her hands around my neck. But she did not lose consciousness. She seemed to be having a heart attack. I knew this from the quick rasping gasps, the quivering of her small frame. Carefully I led her to a chair at the kitchen table. She lay back, her mouth open, smiling bravely, her left arm helpless at her side, and you could see that she was trying to lift the arm and was without strength. "Water. Water... please." I brought her a glass and put it to her lips. She sipped wearily, too far gone, too drained, only seconds from the other shore. "My arm... no feelings . . . my chest... pain... my boy . . . the baby. . . I won't live to see . . . " She collapsed face down on the checkered red and white oilcloth. I was reasonably sure she was all right, but when I gently turned her face and saw the gray purple of her cheeks I felt that I was wrong this time, and I yelled for Papa. "Get a doctor! Hurry." It restored her strength. Slowly she raised her head. "I'm better. It was only a little attack." It was my turn to weaken, relieved, suddenly exhausted. I threw myself into a chair and tried to unravel my fingers as I groped for a smoke. Papa entered. "What's going on?" My mama smiled bravely. She was so^pleased to see me distraught. She could not doubt my love now. She felt quite strong again. "It's nothing. Nothing at all." She was very happy. She purred. She rose and came around to where I sat and took my head in her arms and stroked my hair. "He's tiredfromhis trip. Get him a glass of wine." We understood, Papa and I. There was a rumble of curses in his throat, scarcely audible, as he opened the icebox and removed a decanter of wine. He took a glass from the cupboard and filled it. Mama smiled, watching. He glanced at her angrily. "You cut that out." The great green eyes of my mama opened their widest. "Me?"

JOHNFANTE

"You cut out that stuff." I drank the wine. It was very fine wine, out of the warm soil of those very plains, chilled delicately by ice. Mama was glad to have me in her kitchen. I could see her spine straighten, her shoulders rising. She took the glass from my hand and drained it. Then she looked at me carefully. "Such a pretty shirt I'll wash and iron it before you leave." OftO We ate the peppers with goat's cheese, salted apples, bread and wine. Mama's tongue whirred incessantly, a trapped moth free at last Normally Papa would have quieted her down, but the son was home and this was cause for relaxing the rules. In a little while her chatter would suddenly exasperate him, and she would slip back to her cocoon of respectful silence. We ate while Mama talked and walked around the kitchen, filling the room with thought fragments. An electric fan purred on the icebox, turning left and right and back again. It seemed to be following Mama around the room, like a face staring in blank astonishment Mama said: The winter had been cold and wet. Stella's children were beautiful. There were moths in the, clothes closet. She had dreamed of her dead sister Katie. The price of chicken feed was too high. My brother Jim ate dirt as a baby. Sometimes she had shooting pains in her legs. It was bad luck to wash diapers in the moonlight When you lose something, pray to St Anthony. The cats were killing blackbirds. Bacon should not be kept on ice. She was* afraid of snakes. The roof leaked. There was a new postman. Her mother died of gangrene poisoning. Icewas bad for the stomach. Pregnant women shouldn't look at frogs or lizards. Love was more important than money. She was lonesome. Her hands rested on my shoulders. "If you would write just once a week..." For half an hour she had talked constantly. It was soothing drone we identified but ignored. Papa and I finished the peppers. He filled my glass. Then Mama said, "You planted the seeds for your baby in this house. Right in this house. It was the eighth of August, last year, during that night." It was her first statement that sank home. I stopped eating and looked at her. Then I remembered. Joyce and I had indeed been in San Juan last August. We had slept on the studio couch in Mama's parlor. I remembered the night very well. It was a squeaky studio couch and we decided not to try anything. There had been no conception that night. Mama was all wrong about that "No, she's not," Papa said. JEY FICTION REVIEW


quietly toward her. Midway, she sensed my presence, turning slowly, a spatula in her hand. A kind of nausea seemed to grip her, a disembodiment, the elevator zooming down out of control, the dizzy moment before the plunge from a great height; her eyes rolled, the blood fled from her quick white face, the strength left her fingers and the spatula hit the floor. "Johnny! Oh, thank God!" I rushed forward and she fell into my arms, her hair the color of white clouds at my shoulder, her hands around my neck. But she did not lose consciousness. She seemed to be having a heart attack. I knew this from the quick rasping gasps, the quivering of her small frame. Carefully I led her to a chair at the kitchen table. She lay back, her mouth open, smiling bravely, her left arm helpless at her side, and you could see that she was trying to lift the arm and was without strength. "Water. Water... please." I brought her a glass and put it to her lips. She sipped wearily, too far gone, too drained, only seconds from the other shore. "My arm... no feelings . . . my chest... pain... my boy . . . the baby. . . I won't live to see . . . " She collapsed face down on the checkered red and white oilcloth. I was reasonably sure she was all right, but when I gently turned her face and saw the gray purple of her cheeks I felt that I was wrong this time, and I yelled for Papa. "Get a doctor! Hurry." It restored her strength. Slowly she raised her head. "I'm better. It was only a little attack." It was my turn to weaken, relieved, suddenly exhausted. I threw myself into a chair and tried to unravel my fingers as I groped for a smoke. Papa entered. "What's going on?" My mama smiled bravely. She was so^pleased to see me distraught. She could not doubt my love now. She felt quite strong again. "It's nothing. Nothing at all." She was very happy. She purred. She rose and came around to where I sat and took my head in her arms and stroked my hair. "He's tiredfromhis trip. Get him a glass of wine." We understood, Papa and I. There was a rumble of curses in his throat, scarcely audible, as he opened the icebox and removed a decanter of wine. He took a glass from the cupboard and filled it. Mama smiled, watching. He glanced at her angrily. "You cut that out." The great green eyes of my mama opened their widest. "Me?"

JOHNFANTE

"You cut out that stuff." I drank the wine. It was very fine wine, out of the warm soil of those very plains, chilled delicately by ice. Mama was glad to have me in her kitchen. I could see her spine straighten, her shoulders rising. She took the glass from my hand and drained it. Then she looked at me carefully. "Such a pretty shirt I'll wash and iron it before you leave." OftO We ate the peppers with goat's cheese, salted apples, bread and wine. Mama's tongue whirred incessantly, a trapped moth free at last Normally Papa would have quieted her down, but the son was home and this was cause for relaxing the rules. In a little while her chatter would suddenly exasperate him, and she would slip back to her cocoon of respectful silence. We ate while Mama talked and walked around the kitchen, filling the room with thought fragments. An electric fan purred on the icebox, turning left and right and back again. It seemed to be following Mama around the room, like a face staring in blank astonishment Mama said: The winter had been cold and wet. Stella's children were beautiful. There were moths in the, clothes closet. She had dreamed of her dead sister Katie. The price of chicken feed was too high. My brother Jim ate dirt as a baby. Sometimes she had shooting pains in her legs. It was bad luck to wash diapers in the moonlight When you lose something, pray to St Anthony. The cats were killing blackbirds. Bacon should not be kept on ice. She was* afraid of snakes. The roof leaked. There was a new postman. Her mother died of gangrene poisoning. Icewas bad for the stomach. Pregnant women shouldn't look at frogs or lizards. Love was more important than money. She was lonesome. Her hands rested on my shoulders. "If you would write just once a week..." For half an hour she had talked constantly. It was soothing drone we identified but ignored. Papa and I finished the peppers. He filled my glass. Then Mama said, "You planted the seeds for your baby in this house. Right in this house. It was the eighth of August, last year, during that night." It was her first statement that sank home. I stopped eating and looked at her. Then I remembered. Joyce and I had indeed been in San Juan last August. We had slept on the studio couch in Mama's parlor. I remembered the night very well. It was a squeaky studio couch and we decided not to try anything. There had been no conception that night. Mama was all wrong about that "No, she's not," Papa said. JEY FICTION REVIEW


"What makes you so sure?" Mama smiled. "Because I sprinkled salt in your bed." Papa grinned. "That's right. Salt in the bed. I gave the order." It was very annoying. They were quite smug, taking credit for everything. I told them I didn't remember salt in the bed. This amused Mama. "Of course not. I put it under the sheets." Papa chuckled. "So now you're gonna have a baby." . "Salt," I said 'What poppycock!" "Cock nothing," Papa said. "How do you suppose you was bom?" "The usual way." "Wrong again. Salt in the bed. I put it there myself." I pushed my glass forward, to be filled again. "Superstition. Ignorance." He refused to fill my glass. "Don't dall me ignorance. I'm your Papa." "I didn't say you were ignorant." "I want respect for your Papa. This is your Papa's house. Here, I'm the boss." _ He was fed-faced with quick indignation, filling the glass with trem- : bling fingers, spilling some of the wine. It was bad luck to spill wine. You « » warded off the ill fortune by making the sign of the cross through the spilled liquor. This Mama did. "Your Papa's right," she soothed. "We didn't have any garlic in the house that night, so Papa used salt. It was his own idea." "Garlic?" I looked into Mama's large green eyes. "Why garlic?" "To put in the keyhole." "Is that suppose to bring babies?" "Not plain babies — boy babies." That stopped me cold. It brought a triumphant sneerfromPapa. "Look who's calling his Papa ignorance! He don't know nothing." I swallowed wine, said nothing. "The same Is with Tony and Jim," Mama said. "Garlic in the keyhole when they were bom?" "And Stella?" But I already knew the answer: "No garlic, no salt, no nothing." He would argue, so I kept still. He filled my glass again. , "I only went to the third grade," he mused. "But you — you're supposed

10

JOHNFANTEJ

to have a big education, high school, two years of college, and you're still a kid. You got lots to learn." I was not so ignorant as he imagined. I had learned plenty in that family, ever since childhood, all sorts of priceless learning handed down from generations of Abruzzian forebears. But I found much of this knowledge difficult to use. For example, I had known for years that the way to avoid witches was to wear a fringed shawl, for the attacking witch got distracted counting the fringes and never bothered you. I also knew that cow's urine was simply marvelous for growing hair on bald heads, but up to now I had no occasion to apply this information. I knew, of course, that the cure for measles was a red scarf, and the cure for sore throat was a black scarf. As a child, whenever I got a fever, my Grandma always fastened a piece of lemon to my wrist; it lowered the fever every time. I knew too that the evil eye caused headaches, and my Grandma used to send me out in the rain to plunge a knife in the ground, thus diverting the lighting from our house. I knew that if you slept with windows open, all the witches in the community entered your house, and that if you must sleep in thefreshair, a bit of black pepper sprinkled along the window sill caused the witches to sneeze and back off. I also knew that the way to avoid infection when visiting a sickfriendwas to spit on his door. All these things, and many more, I had known for years, and never forgotten* But you live and learn, and the garlic-and-salt treatment for the marriage bed was something else again. My Papa was probably right: I wasn't so smart, after all. Still I had strong doubts about Joyce's pregnancy beginning that last August on Mama's studio couch.

eee Lunch was over. Papa pushed back his chair. "Get your hat." I never wore a hat. He meant that I should follow him. We went down the porch steps to the street He poked inside the mailbox, drew out a dry cigar butt, and lit it up. The smoke hung so motionless in the quiet air that he had to brush it with his hand. Heat filled the mighty sky, blue and vast and endless. To the east the Sierra Nevadas raised proud heads, the snows of last winter still upon them. The street before the-house was deserted. Ten years ago San Juan had been a hustling town with packing sheds and importance as a grape center. The state highway used to run right through the business center, but the war came and the highway was rerouted, so that it Skirted the toWn now, and the town was slowly dying. The highway was beyond the peach and hop fields now, and tourists swept past and never knew that beyond the orchards lay a

BERKELEY FICTION REVIEW

11


"What makes you so sure?" Mama smiled. "Because I sprinkled salt in your bed." Papa grinned. "That's right. Salt in the bed. I gave the order." It was very annoying. They were quite smug, taking credit for everything. I told them I didn't remember salt in the bed. This amused Mama. "Of course not. I put it under the sheets." Papa chuckled. "So now you're gonna have a baby." . "Salt," I said 'What poppycock!" "Cock nothing," Papa said. "How do you suppose you was bom?" "The usual way." "Wrong again. Salt in the bed. I put it there myself." I pushed my glass forward, to be filled again. "Superstition. Ignorance." He refused to fill my glass. "Don't dall me ignorance. I'm your Papa." "I didn't say you were ignorant." "I want respect for your Papa. This is your Papa's house. Here, I'm the boss." _ He was fed-faced with quick indignation, filling the glass with trem- : bling fingers, spilling some of the wine. It was bad luck to spill wine. You « » warded off the ill fortune by making the sign of the cross through the spilled liquor. This Mama did. "Your Papa's right," she soothed. "We didn't have any garlic in the house that night, so Papa used salt. It was his own idea." "Garlic?" I looked into Mama's large green eyes. "Why garlic?" "To put in the keyhole." "Is that suppose to bring babies?" "Not plain babies — boy babies." That stopped me cold. It brought a triumphant sneerfromPapa. "Look who's calling his Papa ignorance! He don't know nothing." I swallowed wine, said nothing. "The same Is with Tony and Jim," Mama said. "Garlic in the keyhole when they were bom?" "And Stella?" But I already knew the answer: "No garlic, no salt, no nothing." He would argue, so I kept still. He filled my glass again. , "I only went to the third grade," he mused. "But you — you're supposed

10

JOHNFANTEJ

to have a big education, high school, two years of college, and you're still a kid. You got lots to learn." I was not so ignorant as he imagined. I had learned plenty in that family, ever since childhood, all sorts of priceless learning handed down from generations of Abruzzian forebears. But I found much of this knowledge difficult to use. For example, I had known for years that the way to avoid witches was to wear a fringed shawl, for the attacking witch got distracted counting the fringes and never bothered you. I also knew that cow's urine was simply marvelous for growing hair on bald heads, but up to now I had no occasion to apply this information. I knew, of course, that the cure for measles was a red scarf, and the cure for sore throat was a black scarf. As a child, whenever I got a fever, my Grandma always fastened a piece of lemon to my wrist; it lowered the fever every time. I knew too that the evil eye caused headaches, and my Grandma used to send me out in the rain to plunge a knife in the ground, thus diverting the lighting from our house. I knew that if you slept with windows open, all the witches in the community entered your house, and that if you must sleep in thefreshair, a bit of black pepper sprinkled along the window sill caused the witches to sneeze and back off. I also knew that the way to avoid infection when visiting a sickfriendwas to spit on his door. All these things, and many more, I had known for years, and never forgotten* But you live and learn, and the garlic-and-salt treatment for the marriage bed was something else again. My Papa was probably right: I wasn't so smart, after all. Still I had strong doubts about Joyce's pregnancy beginning that last August on Mama's studio couch.

eee Lunch was over. Papa pushed back his chair. "Get your hat." I never wore a hat. He meant that I should follow him. We went down the porch steps to the street He poked inside the mailbox, drew out a dry cigar butt, and lit it up. The smoke hung so motionless in the quiet air that he had to brush it with his hand. Heat filled the mighty sky, blue and vast and endless. To the east the Sierra Nevadas raised proud heads, the snows of last winter still upon them. The street before the-house was deserted. Ten years ago San Juan had been a hustling town with packing sheds and importance as a grape center. The state highway used to run right through the business center, but the war came and the highway was rerouted, so that it Skirted the toWn now, and the town was slowly dying. The highway was beyond the peach and hop fields now, and tourists swept past and never knew that beyond the orchards lay a

BERKELEY FICTION REVIEW

11


T

i*

i! i

community of six thousand. "Where we going?" - Without answering he started up the street. We passed three small homes and then there were no more houses, only the broken asphalt with weeds forcing their way through the cracks, and vineyards on both sides of the road, fanning off to the north and souths thousands of acres of Muscats and Tokays, a sea of green silence. "Where we going?" He walked a little faster, until we came to a place where the road turned and went downhill. This was Joe Muto's land. I recognized the white-topped markings of his fence posts. It was the edge of the Muto vineyard — uncultivated, shrouded in a disordered growth of scrub oak, manzanita, and the last of what had once been a lemon grove. Everything grew wild here, three of four acres which, for one reason or another, Joe Muto had not planted to grapes. My Papa stood before this mass of green confusion and swept it away with a gesture of his cigar. "There she is." He went plowing through the weeds and I followed. In the very middle of the plot, on a promontory overlooking the whole area, he stopped to open his arms. "Here she is. What I'm dreaming about" He bent down to pull up a clump of wild poppies. They came, roots and all, the black tenacious soil hugging the roots. He crushed the roots in his fist, and the warm wet soil was molded to the shape of his land. "Everything grows here. Plant a broomstick, she'll grow." I saw the meaning of it all. "You'd like to own this, Papa? You want to buy it?" "Not for me." He grinned and kicked the ground. "It's for the baby. This is where he's gonna live. Right here." He kicked at the earth again. "It's what I'm dreaming about. You and Miss Joyce and the little boy. Me and Mama down the road. Big place. Four acres. For you. For your children." "But Papa..." "No buts. I'm your Papa. All that junk you write. You got money?" "I got a few dollars, Papa." "You got two thousand dollars?" "Yes." "BUy it. I talked to Joe Muto. He's my paesano. He won't sell to nobody but me." What could I say to this man — m y Papa? What could I say to this work-wracked face, hardened by the years, softened riow by his dream, moving about with his feet on his dream? There was the blue sky and the old lemon trees, and the tall weeds purring like an old love at his legs; and they were

there already, his grandchildren, breathing that air, tossing in the grass, their bones fed by this soil that was his dream. What could I say to this man? Could I tell him that I had bought a house in that jumbled perversity called Los Angeles,rightoff Wilshire Boulevard, a plot of ground fifty by a hundred fifty, and teeming with termites? Had I told him, the earth would have swallowed me, the sky would have cmshed me. "Let me think about it, Papa. I'll see what I can do." "Now I'll show you something else." I followed him back to the road, wondering how I should break the news . . . . For he had to be told about the house in Los Angeles. He should have been told long ago. Yet there had been no deliberate concealment. I had simply forgotten to mention it, no more and no less. We walked back to the house and I could feel his joy. He lit a brandnew fresh cigar and led me to the drawing board on the barrel under the fig tree. Here were the plans for the house he proposed to build on those acres. They were beautiful plans. A stone house it was, the stones free for gathering from a field not far away. There were three fireplaces, one in the kitchen, one in the living room, and one out of doors. It was a long L-shaped rancho, a one-story house with a tile roof. "Last a thousand years," he said. "These are twelve-inch walls, full of steel tie rods." "Fine, Papa." "I'll build it for nothing. You help me. I got my pension. I don't want any more." "Yes. Fine." Yes, and yes, and yes. Until he had explained the last stone and beam, until he was very happy, sucking his cigar and drinking wine. Then the afternoon coolness drifted through from the green vineyard seas and he was sated with so much talking. He rolled up the drawings, put out his cigar, laid the butt in the crotch of the fig tree, and stretched but on the lawn swing. A great and wonderful peace shone on his face. No happier man ever lived on this earth. He closed his eyes and slept. Had he died at that moment, he would have gone straight to paradise.

12

BERKELEY FICTION REVIEW

JOHNFANTE

Reprinted with the permission of Black Sparrow Press. 13


T

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i! i

community of six thousand. "Where we going?" - Without answering he started up the street. We passed three small homes and then there were no more houses, only the broken asphalt with weeds forcing their way through the cracks, and vineyards on both sides of the road, fanning off to the north and souths thousands of acres of Muscats and Tokays, a sea of green silence. "Where we going?" He walked a little faster, until we came to a place where the road turned and went downhill. This was Joe Muto's land. I recognized the white-topped markings of his fence posts. It was the edge of the Muto vineyard — uncultivated, shrouded in a disordered growth of scrub oak, manzanita, and the last of what had once been a lemon grove. Everything grew wild here, three of four acres which, for one reason or another, Joe Muto had not planted to grapes. My Papa stood before this mass of green confusion and swept it away with a gesture of his cigar. "There she is." He went plowing through the weeds and I followed. In the very middle of the plot, on a promontory overlooking the whole area, he stopped to open his arms. "Here she is. What I'm dreaming about" He bent down to pull up a clump of wild poppies. They came, roots and all, the black tenacious soil hugging the roots. He crushed the roots in his fist, and the warm wet soil was molded to the shape of his land. "Everything grows here. Plant a broomstick, she'll grow." I saw the meaning of it all. "You'd like to own this, Papa? You want to buy it?" "Not for me." He grinned and kicked the ground. "It's for the baby. This is where he's gonna live. Right here." He kicked at the earth again. "It's what I'm dreaming about. You and Miss Joyce and the little boy. Me and Mama down the road. Big place. Four acres. For you. For your children." "But Papa..." "No buts. I'm your Papa. All that junk you write. You got money?" "I got a few dollars, Papa." "You got two thousand dollars?" "Yes." "BUy it. I talked to Joe Muto. He's my paesano. He won't sell to nobody but me." What could I say to this man — m y Papa? What could I say to this work-wracked face, hardened by the years, softened riow by his dream, moving about with his feet on his dream? There was the blue sky and the old lemon trees, and the tall weeds purring like an old love at his legs; and they were

there already, his grandchildren, breathing that air, tossing in the grass, their bones fed by this soil that was his dream. What could I say to this man? Could I tell him that I had bought a house in that jumbled perversity called Los Angeles,rightoff Wilshire Boulevard, a plot of ground fifty by a hundred fifty, and teeming with termites? Had I told him, the earth would have swallowed me, the sky would have cmshed me. "Let me think about it, Papa. I'll see what I can do." "Now I'll show you something else." I followed him back to the road, wondering how I should break the news . . . . For he had to be told about the house in Los Angeles. He should have been told long ago. Yet there had been no deliberate concealment. I had simply forgotten to mention it, no more and no less. We walked back to the house and I could feel his joy. He lit a brandnew fresh cigar and led me to the drawing board on the barrel under the fig tree. Here were the plans for the house he proposed to build on those acres. They were beautiful plans. A stone house it was, the stones free for gathering from a field not far away. There were three fireplaces, one in the kitchen, one in the living room, and one out of doors. It was a long L-shaped rancho, a one-story house with a tile roof. "Last a thousand years," he said. "These are twelve-inch walls, full of steel tie rods." "Fine, Papa." "I'll build it for nothing. You help me. I got my pension. I don't want any more." "Yes. Fine." Yes, and yes, and yes. Until he had explained the last stone and beam, until he was very happy, sucking his cigar and drinking wine. Then the afternoon coolness drifted through from the green vineyard seas and he was sated with so much talking. He rolled up the drawings, put out his cigar, laid the butt in the crotch of the fig tree, and stretched but on the lawn swing. A great and wonderful peace shone on his face. No happier man ever lived on this earth. He closed his eyes and slept. Had he died at that moment, he would have gone straight to paradise.

12

BERKELEY FICTION REVIEW

JOHNFANTE

Reprinted with the permission of Black Sparrow Press. 13


T h e

B i g

B R E T T

I

P a s t u r e

R E I T E N

T was half like I never wanted it. It started out whole, but it turned half somewhere. . We hadn't been up to much good. It'd been like that for a couple of months. It was summer, and this being North Dakota, with us in it, we didn't think too hard for anything good. The weather, that?s what it was. The weather was the boss. We just followed orders. We were subservient So mid-morning would get me up. And then coffee even more. I'd call. Or he would. We never needed preliminaries: We were more than just friends. A weekday, the park was nearly empty. Up here, everybody worked. And those who didn't wouldn't go to the park. Any place but. They would wait for the weekends, when everybody was there. They needed it full, so they could complain. Get ready for Monday. Then more complaining. The story of their lives. We pulled up and parked under 'our tree'. It was one of those Grandpa Oaks who kept his thoughts to hirnself. We felt we weren't being watched at


T h e

B i g

B R E T T

I

P a s t u r e

R E I T E N

T was half like I never wanted it. It started out whole, but it turned half somewhere. . We hadn't been up to much good. It'd been like that for a couple of months. It was summer, and this being North Dakota, with us in it, we didn't think too hard for anything good. The weather, that?s what it was. The weather was the boss. We just followed orders. We were subservient So mid-morning would get me up. And then coffee even more. I'd call. Or he would. We never needed preliminaries: We were more than just friends. A weekday, the park was nearly empty. Up here, everybody worked. And those who didn't wouldn't go to the park. Any place but. They would wait for the weekends, when everybody was there. They needed it full, so they could complain. Get ready for Monday. Then more complaining. The story of their lives. We pulled up and parked under 'our tree'. It was one of those Grandpa Oaks who kept his thoughts to hirnself. We felt we weren't being watched at


all. We felt we were being protected. We needed that, see. We didn't want to be watched by no one. Especially our fathers. We didn't want to be thought of as bums, as wasting away our lives. We had some kind of dignity maybe. Maybe it was that. We didn't know, really. No real thinking, that's what we knew. That was us. We cracked open the first of the beers. Who needs breakfast? we'd ask. We'd shrug our shoulders. Not us, we'd say. It was a routine. Our own little skit. It was our own way in toasting, toasting to a life we never thought to stop and figure out. And then we'd drink. We didn't know. We didn't know then. There was something, something was missing. But maybe it was me. When I was alone, that's what I would think. But then it'd turn to him. I'd think of him, how it was he never held back. He wouldn't hide it. He didn't Care. He was crazy. So we became friends. But not just friends. I had friends. They were spread out all over. I'd grown up here. I'd see them everywhere. There were lots of bars. There wasn't anything else to do. How are you doing, I'd say. Pretty good, they'd say, how about you? Not bad, I'd say. That's the way it was. Those were those friends. But we weren't like that. It was different. But it wasn't the way that some thought we were, those who needed something, something other than what we had, who needed stories to take home with them, so they wouldn't be there with nothing. No, it wasn't that way. We weren't queer. We were somewhere in between. That's where we were. So I'd drive up, and he'd get in. We wouldn't say nothing, nothing like How you doing? Preliminaries. We didn't need them. We'd just go. It was like that. It's hard to explain. It was around five. We'd gone through the whole gamut of what we knew about — besides the beer. Stuff you talk about. Baseball. Politics. Girls— which I thought was politics too. But then we got to our dads. Our fathers. And when it was we saw them cry. He told me how he and his friend were fed up, fed up with everything. So they'd decided to go to New York, New York City. For maybe a month. But then he decided to tell his dad that he was going to New York City to live. He told him there w^s nothing to live here for. There was nothing here. He wanted to see what he'd do. He wanted to see if he'd do anything*at all. So he started crying. Right there in front of me and Mom he started crying. I knew then, he said. That's all I wanted to know. So I went. But only for a month. Just the way we planned it. I told him the closest it seemed I got was when I was a kid on the farm. He'd be trying to get the cows from the corral into the big pasture, but they'd

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be running to any place but the open gate. He'd be yelling and swearing while swinging this stick. The cows could tell they weren't doing the right thing, but they didn't know any better because they were scared. So he'd start crying. He'd be swinging this stick and crying. But that's the only time. I don't know, does that count? He wasn't crying about me. He was crying about the cows. There must have been something, something that caused us to talk about it The beer helped, but there must have been something, there must be something in us, something we know is missing. That's maybe why we're friends. Maybe that's why we aren't "justfriends."The something that's missing. The something that no one talks about. Baseball, politics, girls. That's what they talk about. But no one talks about fathers crying. You don't go into a bar and talk about your father crying, not at the cows but at you. How he steered you wrong. How he chased you from the corral out into the big pasture. How I wasn't doing the right thing, but I just didn't know any better. I was scared. And then I'd run anywhere but to the open gate. How he'd yell and swear. But I didn't know any better. I know I wasn't doing the right thing, that I know. But I was scared. I knew where the open gate was. I just didn't know. He never told me, that's what he did. He never told me why I had to go out into the big pasture. He just thought I knew. But I was spared — maybe not of him, but of the big pasture. Maybe cause I'd seen those others .go the way they went, and how they never got to come back in. How they'd stuff themselves with food and drink. Then give up the food and get all cut up. Slaughtered. How they'd get cut into sections. Prime, lean andfat.Then how there'd be nothing left but bones. But how you'd go on somehow, spending the last of it letting the drink do it for you. And they'd finally let you go, but never back to where you started from. How you never knew any better 'cause you were just too scared. But how can you see why now, what with it flashing before you, all of it right there, before the final kick, why fathers cry. They don't know no better. They don't know nothing. They don't know nothing of love. We picked up the empty beer cans and put them in the garbage can about a hundred feet from Grandpa Oak. We knew where we could get those pills that someone said were made for animals but that humans can take for a different reason. So I backed the car out and we drove over there. It did this funny thing to us. We could hardly walk, that's what we could do. It was funny. We could hardly walk.

BERKELEY FICTION REVIEW

17


all. We felt we were being protected. We needed that, see. We didn't want to be watched by no one. Especially our fathers. We didn't want to be thought of as bums, as wasting away our lives. We had some kind of dignity maybe. Maybe it was that. We didn't know, really. No real thinking, that's what we knew. That was us. We cracked open the first of the beers. Who needs breakfast? we'd ask. We'd shrug our shoulders. Not us, we'd say. It was a routine. Our own little skit. It was our own way in toasting, toasting to a life we never thought to stop and figure out. And then we'd drink. We didn't know. We didn't know then. There was something, something was missing. But maybe it was me. When I was alone, that's what I would think. But then it'd turn to him. I'd think of him, how it was he never held back. He wouldn't hide it. He didn't Care. He was crazy. So we became friends. But not just friends. I had friends. They were spread out all over. I'd grown up here. I'd see them everywhere. There were lots of bars. There wasn't anything else to do. How are you doing, I'd say. Pretty good, they'd say, how about you? Not bad, I'd say. That's the way it was. Those were those friends. But we weren't like that. It was different. But it wasn't the way that some thought we were, those who needed something, something other than what we had, who needed stories to take home with them, so they wouldn't be there with nothing. No, it wasn't that way. We weren't queer. We were somewhere in between. That's where we were. So I'd drive up, and he'd get in. We wouldn't say nothing, nothing like How you doing? Preliminaries. We didn't need them. We'd just go. It was like that. It's hard to explain. It was around five. We'd gone through the whole gamut of what we knew about — besides the beer. Stuff you talk about. Baseball. Politics. Girls— which I thought was politics too. But then we got to our dads. Our fathers. And when it was we saw them cry. He told me how he and his friend were fed up, fed up with everything. So they'd decided to go to New York, New York City. For maybe a month. But then he decided to tell his dad that he was going to New York City to live. He told him there w^s nothing to live here for. There was nothing here. He wanted to see what he'd do. He wanted to see if he'd do anything*at all. So he started crying. Right there in front of me and Mom he started crying. I knew then, he said. That's all I wanted to know. So I went. But only for a month. Just the way we planned it. I told him the closest it seemed I got was when I was a kid on the farm. He'd be trying to get the cows from the corral into the big pasture, but they'd

16

BRETT REITEN

be running to any place but the open gate. He'd be yelling and swearing while swinging this stick. The cows could tell they weren't doing the right thing, but they didn't know any better because they were scared. So he'd start crying. He'd be swinging this stick and crying. But that's the only time. I don't know, does that count? He wasn't crying about me. He was crying about the cows. There must have been something, something that caused us to talk about it The beer helped, but there must have been something, there must be something in us, something we know is missing. That's maybe why we're friends. Maybe that's why we aren't "justfriends."The something that's missing. The something that no one talks about. Baseball, politics, girls. That's what they talk about. But no one talks about fathers crying. You don't go into a bar and talk about your father crying, not at the cows but at you. How he steered you wrong. How he chased you from the corral out into the big pasture. How I wasn't doing the right thing, but I just didn't know any better. I was scared. And then I'd run anywhere but to the open gate. How he'd yell and swear. But I didn't know any better. I know I wasn't doing the right thing, that I know. But I was scared. I knew where the open gate was. I just didn't know. He never told me, that's what he did. He never told me why I had to go out into the big pasture. He just thought I knew. But I was spared — maybe not of him, but of the big pasture. Maybe cause I'd seen those others .go the way they went, and how they never got to come back in. How they'd stuff themselves with food and drink. Then give up the food and get all cut up. Slaughtered. How they'd get cut into sections. Prime, lean andfat.Then how there'd be nothing left but bones. But how you'd go on somehow, spending the last of it letting the drink do it for you. And they'd finally let you go, but never back to where you started from. How you never knew any better 'cause you were just too scared. But how can you see why now, what with it flashing before you, all of it right there, before the final kick, why fathers cry. They don't know no better. They don't know nothing. They don't know nothing of love. We picked up the empty beer cans and put them in the garbage can about a hundred feet from Grandpa Oak. We knew where we could get those pills that someone said were made for animals but that humans can take for a different reason. So I backed the car out and we drove over there. It did this funny thing to us. We could hardly walk, that's what we could do. It was funny. We could hardly walk.

BERKELEY FICTION REVIEW

17


U n c e r t a i n

M

T

A

R

K

O a s e s

L A N D S M A N

hey did not know it but they were travelling within the borders of convention. It was everything off-road that was beyond Time and uncertain as the Second Coming. So much land and sky and, my God, so many stars. Under the high July sun, while gazing across the vast, rolling landscape that approaches the Oquirre Mountains, one can almost believe the outrageous claims of divine license our leaders have made iii their deluded efforts to shape this world. But when the sun bets on the wrong horizon and evening descendsln the east, the edges of the road and the contours, of the dream dissolve. The Eternal King of Uncertainty usurps the American crown. Even the magician felt uneasy in the deep solitude of the dark Utah night. It was all he could do to keep the car moving straight, as the musician repeatedly re-adjusted the steering wheel from the passenger seat And these were men accustomed to the plasticity of reality and time. Finally they too were forced to seek shelter under the roof of convention at a super-sterile super-8 motel.


U n c e r t a i n

M

T

A

R

K

O a s e s

L A N D S M A N

hey did not know it but they were travelling within the borders of convention. It was everything off-road that was beyond Time and uncertain as the Second Coming. So much land and sky and, my God, so many stars. Under the high July sun, while gazing across the vast, rolling landscape that approaches the Oquirre Mountains, one can almost believe the outrageous claims of divine license our leaders have made iii their deluded efforts to shape this world. But when the sun bets on the wrong horizon and evening descendsln the east, the edges of the road and the contours, of the dream dissolve. The Eternal King of Uncertainty usurps the American crown. Even the magician felt uneasy in the deep solitude of the dark Utah night. It was all he could do to keep the car moving straight, as the musician repeatedly re-adjusted the steering wheel from the passenger seat And these were men accustomed to the plasticity of reality and time. Finally they too were forced to seek shelter under the roof of convention at a super-sterile super-8 motel.


1

The magician went straight to bed. The musician remained awake, practicing his magic. For the two men had taken each other on as students. And while a shiny new quarter rolled over and over the knuckles of hisrighthand the musician stared out the window thinking only of rolling rhythms. But then hills and visions . . . . Slowly, unknowingly, he drifted out of the window, landing softly on his bare feet in the cool soil. Along the ridge of a hill, not too far away, he could see a light shimmering smoothly. He ran to it with increasing speed, bearing the pain in his feet from the stones and twigs on the dry ground. He ran until he reached the foot of the hill and only then realized how steep it was and that skeletal bushes offered fierce resistance. He thought of returning for his sneakers but feared the light would disappear before he could come back. So he attacked the slope violently, digging in with his toes and fingernails for balance. His face becarhe damp with sweat but this only caused the light to shimmer more brilliantiy in eyes that had become wet with longing. He felt his lungs burning for more as he clutched and grasped at weeds with roots which did not hold. He felt his will weaken as doubt crept into his heart. But this he quickly dismissed. And when his breath had finally been spent, when his muscles were numb from the aching strain, he found himself miraculously on top of the hill. Looking back, he noticed that the slope was again hidden in darkness. He turned quickly, gasping, to look down the other side of the hill. At the bottom there was a small wooden building, a bar, with two white pick-up trucks and an old Mercury Cougar parked outside. He could hear country music seeping through the open door and the open windows up into the night like srrioke curling up out of a chimney. The pink neon sign on'top of the sharp roof shouted 'Sarah's Oasis' into the darkness. And across the dusty road theTe was a gas station with its own neon sigh that was blue and read 'Gas.' The musician sat down and listened to the music riding softly on the evening breeze. Johnny Gash singing "Peace In The Valley." He liked Johnny Cash. When all of a sudden the song ended in the middle. Someone had pulled the plug on the jukebox, on Johnny Cash. People soon emerged from the dark doorway. Three men and two women stumbling and singing in the dusty road. And then they were gone and the engines of their horses could barely be heard. All that remained were the two neon signs dancing under the blackest blanket in the world, daring to exist in the vast nothingness for all to see and... It was late. One of the drunken women had even said so. And then someone pulled the plug on 'Sarah's Oasis' and the 'Gas' man on top of the hill got down on his knees, folded up, and prayed for annihilation.

20

MARK LANDSMAN


1

The magician went straight to bed. The musician remained awake, practicing his magic. For the two men had taken each other on as students. And while a shiny new quarter rolled over and over the knuckles of hisrighthand the musician stared out the window thinking only of rolling rhythms. But then hills and visions . . . . Slowly, unknowingly, he drifted out of the window, landing softly on his bare feet in the cool soil. Along the ridge of a hill, not too far away, he could see a light shimmering smoothly. He ran to it with increasing speed, bearing the pain in his feet from the stones and twigs on the dry ground. He ran until he reached the foot of the hill and only then realized how steep it was and that skeletal bushes offered fierce resistance. He thought of returning for his sneakers but feared the light would disappear before he could come back. So he attacked the slope violently, digging in with his toes and fingernails for balance. His face becarhe damp with sweat but this only caused the light to shimmer more brilliantiy in eyes that had become wet with longing. He felt his lungs burning for more as he clutched and grasped at weeds with roots which did not hold. He felt his will weaken as doubt crept into his heart. But this he quickly dismissed. And when his breath had finally been spent, when his muscles were numb from the aching strain, he found himself miraculously on top of the hill. Looking back, he noticed that the slope was again hidden in darkness. He turned quickly, gasping, to look down the other side of the hill. At the bottom there was a small wooden building, a bar, with two white pick-up trucks and an old Mercury Cougar parked outside. He could hear country music seeping through the open door and the open windows up into the night like srrioke curling up out of a chimney. The pink neon sign on'top of the sharp roof shouted 'Sarah's Oasis' into the darkness. And across the dusty road theTe was a gas station with its own neon sigh that was blue and read 'Gas.' The musician sat down and listened to the music riding softly on the evening breeze. Johnny Gash singing "Peace In The Valley." He liked Johnny Cash. When all of a sudden the song ended in the middle. Someone had pulled the plug on the jukebox, on Johnny Cash. People soon emerged from the dark doorway. Three men and two women stumbling and singing in the dusty road. And then they were gone and the engines of their horses could barely be heard. All that remained were the two neon signs dancing under the blackest blanket in the world, daring to exist in the vast nothingness for all to see and... It was late. One of the drunken women had even said so. And then someone pulled the plug on 'Sarah's Oasis' and the 'Gas' man on top of the hill got down on his knees, folded up, and prayed for annihilation.

20

MARK LANDSMAN


POETRY


POETRY


I. A l e x a n d e r

C H R I S T O P H E R

|

A lgeciras to Techuan I thought of myself as Alexander Home behind, but in me still— 'The strange eyes, Hashish, the sweet mint tea.' And there, Sand upon city, double exposure Of sun upon window pane My conceit withered, and the sand told me: If Alexander had not died There in the East, He might have taken this train Weariness of arm-rest, battling knees And arriving, The wonder of the morning cry Might have silenced his step And the sea The whiteness of sand-shine The desert like wise old death on his tongue Chaos of the Medina reforming his memory And with sun disordered eyes An ocean stare into the west The pale, whispering end to his flight from defeat He might have chosen to leave his army Leave his art Leave his soul in Macedon And stay here

1 i

Wind blew dust into the train And Peter laughed when I got mad

a t

R a b a t

G R E G E R


I. A l e x a n d e r

C H R I S T O P H E R

|

A lgeciras to Techuan I thought of myself as Alexander Home behind, but in me still— 'The strange eyes, Hashish, the sweet mint tea.' And there, Sand upon city, double exposure Of sun upon window pane My conceit withered, and the sand told me: If Alexander had not died There in the East, He might have taken this train Weariness of arm-rest, battling knees And arriving, The wonder of the morning cry Might have silenced his step And the sea The whiteness of sand-shine The desert like wise old death on his tongue Chaos of the Medina reforming his memory And with sun disordered eyes An ocean stare into the west The pale, whispering end to his flight from defeat He might have chosen to leave his army Leave his art Leave his soul in Macedon And stay here

1 i

Wind blew dust into the train And Peter laughed when I got mad

a t

R a b a t

G R E G E R


II.

C H R I S T O P H E R

4f 4

j? ' U 1 !

IJ__

H . earing the thin and distant call to prayer When I am perfectly elsewhere Swathed in a feather quilt on Frost infected mornings Morning taste, the dregs of What last night I read And the watercolor wash Of what I dreamed The fog-white canvas of my waking Sleep colored still, and then The thin, distant call to prayer Birdlike Or the cry of birds

M u e z z i n

G R E G E R

WOODCUT SHEW WATSON


II.

C H R I S T O P H E R

4f 4

j? ' U 1 !

IJ__

H . earing the thin and distant call to prayer When I am perfectly elsewhere Swathed in a feather quilt on Frost infected mornings Morning taste, the dregs of What last night I read And the watercolor wash Of what I dreamed The fog-white canvas of my waking Sleep colored still, and then The thin, distant call to prayer Birdlike Or the cry of birds

M u e z z i n

G R E G E R

WOODCUT SHEW WATSON


T h e

P a r d o n f o r

E z r a

D A V I D

^ P ew and Jew-hater, fingers stretched Round each other's throat, wheeze Their intimate threats in this Unending heaven of rhetoric I see behind his book — and he Might have joined that bickering chorus Once his body sloughed off And left him breathing in his own mask,

1 I l l

One, many-voiced... but he died Renouncing his "suburban prejudice" — Denying the purity of his hate. Since then, the metal starfish of fame Has grown around his head: Each new opinion mottles the crust, Already burred and sticky with topics. Neither words nor silence can Crack it open — my hands reach in, Feeling for the face crammed somewhere Inside: confused, sour, intractable, Denying me the fullness of revenge.

1 I

1

And so he is pardoned of authority: He cannot enter this Garden of Enemies And bear the judgement of my embrace — The self-annulling reverence demanded by his book.

P o u n d

G E W A N T E R


T h e

P a r d o n f o r

E z r a

D A V I D

^ P ew and Jew-hater, fingers stretched Round each other's throat, wheeze Their intimate threats in this Unending heaven of rhetoric I see behind his book — and he Might have joined that bickering chorus Once his body sloughed off And left him breathing in his own mask,

1 I l l

One, many-voiced... but he died Renouncing his "suburban prejudice" — Denying the purity of his hate. Since then, the metal starfish of fame Has grown around his head: Each new opinion mottles the crust, Already burred and sticky with topics. Neither words nor silence can Crack it open — my hands reach in, Feeling for the face crammed somewhere Inside: confused, sour, intractable, Denying me the fullness of revenge.

1 I

1

And so he is pardoned of authority: He cannot enter this Garden of Enemies And bear the judgement of my embrace — The self-annulling reverence demanded by his book.

P o u n d

G E W A N T E R


w a i t i n

f o

r i g a

O L I V E R

X

JL saw the mucous residue of a victim's resentment graffittied on her distance, like ashes still moist from the marrow of the bone breath a wheeze like a crippled thing mind kindle toxic emissions on that face i saw firefly eyes earnest and obsidian hades flickered in them and i knew why because i know what they did to her and they will go free

I! I


w a i t i n

f o

r i g a

O L I V E R

X

JL saw the mucous residue of a victim's resentment graffittied on her distance, like ashes still moist from the marrow of the bone breath a wheeze like a crippled thing mind kindle toxic emissions on that face i saw firefly eyes earnest and obsidian hades flickered in them and i knew why because i know what they did to her and they will go free

I! I


PHOTOGRAPHS ERIN SCHWARTZ


PHOTOGRAPHS ERIN SCHWARTZ




r


r


CONTEMPORARY IRISH LITERATURE


CONTEMPORARY IRISH LITERATURE


I III Pi

T

ODAY in Ireland there a lot of good writers, but there aren't any, what I would call, great writers like the poet Yeats . . . but then again if you get one of them in a century you are doing pretty well. — BRENDAN KENNELLY

I R E L A N D has continued to a d d t o i t s Vital a n d v i b r a n t b o d y o f literature i n t h e h a l f century since the deaths of William Butler Yeats and James Joyce, W i t h this selectio n o f Irish writing the Berkeley Fiction Review surveys the new directions in recent Irish literature through several o f I r e l a n d ' s m a j o r literary v o i c e s .


I III Pi

T

ODAY in Ireland there a lot of good writers, but there aren't any, what I would call, great writers like the poet Yeats . . . but then again if you get one of them in a century you are doing pretty well. — BRENDAN KENNELLY

I R E L A N D has continued to a d d t o i t s Vital a n d v i b r a n t b o d y o f literature i n t h e h a l f century since the deaths of William Butler Yeats and James Joyce, W i t h this selectio n o f Irish writing the Berkeley Fiction Review surveys the new directions in recent Irish literature through several o f I r e l a n d ' s m a j o r literary v o i c e s .


interview with

S e a m u s

J A M E S

s

H e a n e y

P E N N E R

EAMUS HEANEY, perhaps the greatest Irish poet since Yeats, talks about Irish Literature, America, Ronald Reagan, Wilfred Owen and the role of the poet in society today.

"America has become part of the routine of my life. Curiosity was the first thing that attracted me there. My first real visit to America was in 197071 when I taught in the University of Cahfornia, Berkeley, for a year and at that time the West Coast was a kind of magnetic, glamorous area. Protest, flower-power and so on. And I must say I found the year there very enhancing and releasing; to use a Californian expression, 'it gave you permission'. "The main attraction of the present tie-up [Heaney's Spring appointment at Harvard as Boylston Professor of Rhetoric and Oratory] is that it gives me eight months at home. The relationship with Harvard is genial and friendly, but it is fundamentally financial y' know. I get paid for a half-year salary, which is more than a half-year salary would be here, so it secures the mortgages and necessities.

I


interview with

S e a m u s

J A M E S

s

H e a n e y

P E N N E R

EAMUS HEANEY, perhaps the greatest Irish poet since Yeats, talks about Irish Literature, America, Ronald Reagan, Wilfred Owen and the role of the poet in society today.

"America has become part of the routine of my life. Curiosity was the first thing that attracted me there. My first real visit to America was in 197071 when I taught in the University of Cahfornia, Berkeley, for a year and at that time the West Coast was a kind of magnetic, glamorous area. Protest, flower-power and so on. And I must say I found the year there very enhancing and releasing; to use a Californian expression, 'it gave you permission'. "The main attraction of the present tie-up [Heaney's Spring appointment at Harvard as Boylston Professor of Rhetoric and Oratory] is that it gives me eight months at home. The relationship with Harvard is genial and friendly, but it is fundamentally financial y' know. I get paid for a half-year salary, which is more than a half-year salary would be here, so it secures the mortgages and necessities.

I


"But having said that, of course, in truth, there are other things to it. I think that fundamentally it's the change factor. It's the refreshment of going to a culture where people work like hell. I find that refreshing. I would find it exhausting to live there all the time, but it is good to be reminded that endeavor is worthwhile." Although Heaney spends a lot of time in America, he is not at ease with its current political climate. "There is so much I dislike about America, but I think the most unnerving thing — for all of us — about America is its huge innocent power. Not innocent in the sense of 'without hurt'. The sad thing about America is that it is innocent, it blunders about with this huge carapace of power upon itself, and it doesn't realize the effect it is making . . . to put it in a nutshell, Reagan, and that particular administration, are unnerving phenomena. "Fundamentally what I don't like about America is the uplift factor y' know. The sense that everything has to make you happy. The sense that every action, whether public or private, is part of some ongoing symphony of good. I think that Reagan is symptomatic of the desire for everything to be like a movie, almost. That when people are feeling good, background music will almost play. If you listen to Ronald Reagan's voice [he briefly essays an imitation] it gets that husky, conniving, slightly false persuasiveness about it. It is constantly a puzzle to me why someone who is, to most people on this side of the At- i i T h e s a d t h i n g a b o u t lantic, transparently vacuous, who is withA m e r i c a i s t h a t it is out ifony, without meritment of intelligence, i n n o c e n t , it b l u n d e r s should, y' know, be loved. And it's just a a b o u t w i t h t h i s h u g e symptom of that desire for clammy uplift c a r a p a c e of p o w e r which he is always givmg. u p o n itself, a n d it Although Heaney obviously holds very d o e s n y t r e a l i z e t h e firm political views, he yy is not comfortable effect i t i s m a k i n g . . . overtly politicizing his

46

INTERVIEW WITH SEAMUS HEANEY

poetry. He has been criticized for not taking a more outspoken stand on the strife in Northern Ireland. "Well I don't feel [that] the gift — whatever it is — entails any duty to the current political situation. I think that the obligation is a citizen's obligation almost, and it may be a mistaken one. The orthodoxy with which I grew up says that lyric poetry doesn't do well if it touches current events. Now that is an orthodoxy as much as anything else. It is also a truth. But you have to prove that it's a truth to yourself, I think." Heaney does believe, however, that poets can have an influence on society. "It is possible [that] Yeats has had an influence on Irish society in ways that, perhaps, he did not expect to have, y' know. He has informed the imagination, and it isn't just that people quote him, he gives a certain pitched feeling, he is a kind of inaudible tuning fork [for] a generalized sentiment. And these things are much more important than are acknowledged. Kavanagh, as a reaction against [Yeats], has peaked [in importance]. Philip Larkin, in England, for a large minority of the graduate population had a certain kind of melody that they listened to and said, 'this is us' y' know. [Larkin] is making something happen at a level that is subtle, but it's there. Definitely." Seamus Heaney is not a typical Post-Modernist poet, his ideas and methods owe more to the nineteenth century than the twentieth. In fact it was the Romantic Gerard Manley Hopkins who first inspired in Heaney the desire to write poetry. "I would see myself at the end of something, rather than the beginning . . . I would see myself as somethingafter the modernist experiment. Whatever the outburst of the Teens and Twenties was, it didn't take. I think I, and my generation — including Brendan Kennelly, Derek Mahon and Michael Longley —> are really Romantic writers. Late Romantic writers. "The aesthetic push of modernism brought us very far and brought us into irony, into detachment. Of course it was in response to so many things. But I don't think it can go much further in that direction. I think that where [modernism] changed back in a Romantic-Wordsworthian way, has been where the hurt is very big, y' know. Like Russia, or Poland. The hurt hasn't been very big in Britain or in America, [although] I think it has been bad Wilfred Owen has been the poet in [this] century who puts up the problem. I remember lecturing on Wilfred Owen's poetry — I used to say 'this is a bit overwritten'. However, in the end, Owen earned every word he ever wrote,

BERKELEY FICTION REVIEW

47


"But having said that, of course, in truth, there are other things to it. I think that fundamentally it's the change factor. It's the refreshment of going to a culture where people work like hell. I find that refreshing. I would find it exhausting to live there all the time, but it is good to be reminded that endeavor is worthwhile." Although Heaney spends a lot of time in America, he is not at ease with its current political climate. "There is so much I dislike about America, but I think the most unnerving thing — for all of us — about America is its huge innocent power. Not innocent in the sense of 'without hurt'. The sad thing about America is that it is innocent, it blunders about with this huge carapace of power upon itself, and it doesn't realize the effect it is making . . . to put it in a nutshell, Reagan, and that particular administration, are unnerving phenomena. "Fundamentally what I don't like about America is the uplift factor y' know. The sense that everything has to make you happy. The sense that every action, whether public or private, is part of some ongoing symphony of good. I think that Reagan is symptomatic of the desire for everything to be like a movie, almost. That when people are feeling good, background music will almost play. If you listen to Ronald Reagan's voice [he briefly essays an imitation] it gets that husky, conniving, slightly false persuasiveness about it. It is constantly a puzzle to me why someone who is, to most people on this side of the At- i i T h e s a d t h i n g a b o u t lantic, transparently vacuous, who is withA m e r i c a i s t h a t it is out ifony, without meritment of intelligence, i n n o c e n t , it b l u n d e r s should, y' know, be loved. And it's just a a b o u t w i t h t h i s h u g e symptom of that desire for clammy uplift c a r a p a c e of p o w e r which he is always givmg. u p o n itself, a n d it Although Heaney obviously holds very d o e s n y t r e a l i z e t h e firm political views, he yy is not comfortable effect i t i s m a k i n g . . . overtly politicizing his

46

INTERVIEW WITH SEAMUS HEANEY

poetry. He has been criticized for not taking a more outspoken stand on the strife in Northern Ireland. "Well I don't feel [that] the gift — whatever it is — entails any duty to the current political situation. I think that the obligation is a citizen's obligation almost, and it may be a mistaken one. The orthodoxy with which I grew up says that lyric poetry doesn't do well if it touches current events. Now that is an orthodoxy as much as anything else. It is also a truth. But you have to prove that it's a truth to yourself, I think." Heaney does believe, however, that poets can have an influence on society. "It is possible [that] Yeats has had an influence on Irish society in ways that, perhaps, he did not expect to have, y' know. He has informed the imagination, and it isn't just that people quote him, he gives a certain pitched feeling, he is a kind of inaudible tuning fork [for] a generalized sentiment. And these things are much more important than are acknowledged. Kavanagh, as a reaction against [Yeats], has peaked [in importance]. Philip Larkin, in England, for a large minority of the graduate population had a certain kind of melody that they listened to and said, 'this is us' y' know. [Larkin] is making something happen at a level that is subtle, but it's there. Definitely." Seamus Heaney is not a typical Post-Modernist poet, his ideas and methods owe more to the nineteenth century than the twentieth. In fact it was the Romantic Gerard Manley Hopkins who first inspired in Heaney the desire to write poetry. "I would see myself at the end of something, rather than the beginning . . . I would see myself as somethingafter the modernist experiment. Whatever the outburst of the Teens and Twenties was, it didn't take. I think I, and my generation — including Brendan Kennelly, Derek Mahon and Michael Longley —> are really Romantic writers. Late Romantic writers. "The aesthetic push of modernism brought us very far and brought us into irony, into detachment. Of course it was in response to so many things. But I don't think it can go much further in that direction. I think that where [modernism] changed back in a Romantic-Wordsworthian way, has been where the hurt is very big, y' know. Like Russia, or Poland. The hurt hasn't been very big in Britain or in America, [although] I think it has been bad Wilfred Owen has been the poet in [this] century who puts up the problem. I remember lecturing on Wilfred Owen's poetry — I used to say 'this is a bit overwritten'. However, in the end, Owen earned every word he ever wrote,

BERKELEY FICTION REVIEW

47


and you felt puny and effete and somehow trivial bringing aesthetics to bear on his work which was bom of the courage and the pain that he went through to write it. So Owen is a point in English poetry where, I think, the test between lyric and life or tragedy is carried but, and Owen wins very well. "That's really why I like him so much, and am so attracted to Polish poetry and what I call 'the right to write'; the right of the lyric to its own status as beauty has been won. [The Poles] hated poetry and still had to write. What's so exciting [is] its heroic artistic achievement. "There is a Polish woman, Anna Swir, [who] says, [and] it pleases me enormously, 'Inspiration is a psychosomatic phenomena which gives the poem a biological right to life.' It's wonderfully well said because if you have that kind of psychosomatic relationship with the moment [in which] the poem begins, if the poem is bom out of that conviction, then you don't care if it's a good poem [for] you believe it has a biological right to life; You can write other poems that might be good to the outsider, but they don't have [a] biologicalrightto life. That is the mystery." Each of Seamus Heaney7 s books of poetry has sold more than fifteen thousand copies, an exceptional number for a contemporary poet. Yet Heaney distrusts this popularity. "I think that there are very few genuine readers of poetry.' I'm deeply skeptical; I think a lot of people buy books of poetry, read a few poems and pretend to know [the poems]. I think [this] is the way civilization proceeds. It's when the pretension [to knowledge] gets out of hand that you're in danger. "I've always made a distincii] 1 w o u l d s e e m y s e l f a t tion: there are three rings of t h e e n d of s o m e t h i n g , readership. There is a first circle, if r a t h e r t h a n t h e you like, of people who usually meet [the poet] early in b e g i n n i n g . I w o u l d s e e [his] life . . . who constitute a little m y s e l f a s s o m e t h i n g group. They may be wives, friends, a f t e r t h e m o d e r n i s t acquaintances, yy [or] people who e x p e r i m e n t . saw your poems

48

INTERVIEW WITH SEAMUS HEAfsfEY

in manuscript, who now look at them in magazines, [forming] a grape-vine. [This is] the audience that [the poet] writes for until the end qf [his] life. "I think that there is a second group of readers, all over, [who] once the book is published are eager and inquisitive, [who pay] attention to the poems. [They are] usually writers themselves. They might numberfive-hundredall together, or maybe five-thousand. "If you keep on writing past one or two books, and that second circle says, 'yeah, this has got it, this is okay,' then you acquire a third circle, a public for poetry. [And] this is an audience for poetry which has grown undoubtedly." "I don't think poetry is a dying art form. I think it's always being renewed. And that renewal depends very much on talent, or genius. There is always [a] lament for the death of the art. However, I think it is alive and well. Large audiences and media events help poetry in the world, as a consumer item, but they don't necessarily help the art of poetry. " . . . You could liken it [to] the idea of faith in the Catholic sense. You have the Bishop of Rome, Peter, and you have the Apostolic succession of Popes. Now as long as somebody is laying his hand on somebody else's head, that faith, that succession, is still alive. Okay, at some point it controls the world, it's a big scene you know, but then it collapses, as it is now collapsing inwards. It's a good analogy because at the moment, the Pope is a terrific publicist, but the faith is collapsing inwards. As long as the Apostolic succession keeps going, the inner life of faith is alive. It's the same way with poetry, as long as, in Auden's phrase, 'the breaking bread with the dead' is continuing, as long as there are poets dwelling upon the nature of their art, and feeding [from its] inheritance, never mind the size of the audience, that is the life of [the] art itself... It is elitist, of course."

BERKELEY FICTION REVIEW

49


and you felt puny and effete and somehow trivial bringing aesthetics to bear on his work which was bom of the courage and the pain that he went through to write it. So Owen is a point in English poetry where, I think, the test between lyric and life or tragedy is carried but, and Owen wins very well. "That's really why I like him so much, and am so attracted to Polish poetry and what I call 'the right to write'; the right of the lyric to its own status as beauty has been won. [The Poles] hated poetry and still had to write. What's so exciting [is] its heroic artistic achievement. "There is a Polish woman, Anna Swir, [who] says, [and] it pleases me enormously, 'Inspiration is a psychosomatic phenomena which gives the poem a biological right to life.' It's wonderfully well said because if you have that kind of psychosomatic relationship with the moment [in which] the poem begins, if the poem is bom out of that conviction, then you don't care if it's a good poem [for] you believe it has a biological right to life; You can write other poems that might be good to the outsider, but they don't have [a] biologicalrightto life. That is the mystery." Each of Seamus Heaney7 s books of poetry has sold more than fifteen thousand copies, an exceptional number for a contemporary poet. Yet Heaney distrusts this popularity. "I think that there are very few genuine readers of poetry.' I'm deeply skeptical; I think a lot of people buy books of poetry, read a few poems and pretend to know [the poems]. I think [this] is the way civilization proceeds. It's when the pretension [to knowledge] gets out of hand that you're in danger. "I've always made a distincii] 1 w o u l d s e e m y s e l f a t tion: there are three rings of t h e e n d of s o m e t h i n g , readership. There is a first circle, if r a t h e r t h a n t h e you like, of people who usually meet [the poet] early in b e g i n n i n g . I w o u l d s e e [his] life . . . who constitute a little m y s e l f a s s o m e t h i n g group. They may be wives, friends, a f t e r t h e m o d e r n i s t acquaintances, yy [or] people who e x p e r i m e n t . saw your poems

48

INTERVIEW WITH SEAMUS HEAfsfEY

in manuscript, who now look at them in magazines, [forming] a grape-vine. [This is] the audience that [the poet] writes for until the end qf [his] life. "I think that there is a second group of readers, all over, [who] once the book is published are eager and inquisitive, [who pay] attention to the poems. [They are] usually writers themselves. They might numberfive-hundredall together, or maybe five-thousand. "If you keep on writing past one or two books, and that second circle says, 'yeah, this has got it, this is okay,' then you acquire a third circle, a public for poetry. [And] this is an audience for poetry which has grown undoubtedly." "I don't think poetry is a dying art form. I think it's always being renewed. And that renewal depends very much on talent, or genius. There is always [a] lament for the death of the art. However, I think it is alive and well. Large audiences and media events help poetry in the world, as a consumer item, but they don't necessarily help the art of poetry. " . . . You could liken it [to] the idea of faith in the Catholic sense. You have the Bishop of Rome, Peter, and you have the Apostolic succession of Popes. Now as long as somebody is laying his hand on somebody else's head, that faith, that succession, is still alive. Okay, at some point it controls the world, it's a big scene you know, but then it collapses, as it is now collapsing inwards. It's a good analogy because at the moment, the Pope is a terrific publicist, but the faith is collapsing inwards. As long as the Apostolic succession keeps going, the inner life of faith is alive. It's the same way with poetry, as long as, in Auden's phrase, 'the breaking bread with the dead' is continuing, as long as there are poets dwelling upon the nature of their art, and feeding [from its] inheritance, never mind the size of the audience, that is the life of [the] art itself... It is elitist, of course."

BERKELEY FICTION REVIEW

49


Seamus Heaney's works include: Poetry Death of a Naturalist Door in the Dark Wintering Out North Field Work Sweeney Astray Station Island The Haw Lantern Prose Preoccupations

f (1966) (1969) (1972) (1975) (1979) (1984) (1985) (1987)

f

T h e

W i l d

D o g

R o s e

•f J O H N

(1985)

M O N T A G U E

f

i go to say goodbye to the Cailleach* that terrible figure who haunted my childhood but no longer harsh, a human being merely, hurt by event. The cottage, ^ circled by trees, weathered to admonitory shapes of desolation by the mountain winds, straggles into view. The rank thistles and leathery bracken of unfilled fields stretch behind with — a final outcrop — the hooped figure by the roadside, its retinue of dogs

which gave tongue

50

INTERVIEW WITH SEAMUS HEANEY

*Cailleach: Irish and Scots Gaelic for an old^woman, a hag


Seamus Heaney's works include: Poetry Death of a Naturalist Door in the Dark Wintering Out North Field Work Sweeney Astray Station Island The Haw Lantern Prose Preoccupations

f (1966) (1969) (1972) (1975) (1979) (1984) (1985) (1987)

f

T h e

W i l d

D o g

R o s e

•f J O H N

(1985)

M O N T A G U E

f

i go to say goodbye to the Cailleach* that terrible figure who haunted my childhood but no longer harsh, a human being merely, hurt by event. The cottage, ^ circled by trees, weathered to admonitory shapes of desolation by the mountain winds, straggles into view. The rank thistles and leathery bracken of unfilled fields stretch behind with — a final outcrop — the hooped figure by the roadside, its retinue of dogs

which gave tongue

50

INTERVIEW WITH SEAMUS HEANEY

*Cailleach: Irish and Scots Gaelic for an old^woman, a hag


as I approach, with savage, whining cries so that she slowly turns, a moving nest of shawls and rags, to view, to stare the stranger down.

II

And I feel again that ancient awe, the terror of a child before the great hooked nose, the cheeks dewlapped with dirt, the staring blue of the, sunken eyes* the mottled claws clutching a stick

And there where the dog rose shines in the hedge she tells me a story so terrible that I try to push it away, my bones melting. Late at night a drunk came beating at her door to break it in, the bolt snapping from the soft wood, the thin mongrels rushing to cut, but yelping as he whirls with his farm boots to crush their skulls.

but now hold and return her gaze, to greet her, as she greets me, in friendliness. Memories have wrought reconciliation between us, we talk in ease at last, like old friends, lovers almost, sharing secrets

In the darkness they wresde, two creatures crazed with loneliness, the smell of the decaying cottage in his nostrils like a drug, his body heavy on hers, the tasteless trunk of a seventy year old virgin, which he rummages while she battles for life

of neighbors she quarrelled with, who now lie in Garvaghey graveyard, beyond all hatred; of my family and hers, how she never married, though a man came asking her in her youth "You would be loath to leave your own" she sighs, "and go among strangers" — his parish ten miles off.

bony fingers reaching desperately to push against his bull neck. "I prayed to the Blessed Virgin herself for help and after a time I broke his grip."

For sixty years since she has lived alone, in one place. Obscurely honored by such confidences, I idle by the summer roadside, listening, while the monologue falters, continues, rehearsing the small events of her life. The only true madness is loneliness, the monotonous voice in the skull that never stops because never heard.

52

He rolls to the floor, snores asleep, while she cowers until dawn and the dogs' whimpering starts him awake, to lurch back across the wet bog.

JOHN MONTAGUE

BERKELEY FICTION REVIEW

53 f m


as I approach, with savage, whining cries so that she slowly turns, a moving nest of shawls and rags, to view, to stare the stranger down.

II

And I feel again that ancient awe, the terror of a child before the great hooked nose, the cheeks dewlapped with dirt, the staring blue of the, sunken eyes* the mottled claws clutching a stick

And there where the dog rose shines in the hedge she tells me a story so terrible that I try to push it away, my bones melting. Late at night a drunk came beating at her door to break it in, the bolt snapping from the soft wood, the thin mongrels rushing to cut, but yelping as he whirls with his farm boots to crush their skulls.

but now hold and return her gaze, to greet her, as she greets me, in friendliness. Memories have wrought reconciliation between us, we talk in ease at last, like old friends, lovers almost, sharing secrets

In the darkness they wresde, two creatures crazed with loneliness, the smell of the decaying cottage in his nostrils like a drug, his body heavy on hers, the tasteless trunk of a seventy year old virgin, which he rummages while she battles for life

of neighbors she quarrelled with, who now lie in Garvaghey graveyard, beyond all hatred; of my family and hers, how she never married, though a man came asking her in her youth "You would be loath to leave your own" she sighs, "and go among strangers" — his parish ten miles off.

bony fingers reaching desperately to push against his bull neck. "I prayed to the Blessed Virgin herself for help and after a time I broke his grip."

For sixty years since she has lived alone, in one place. Obscurely honored by such confidences, I idle by the summer roadside, listening, while the monologue falters, continues, rehearsing the small events of her life. The only true madness is loneliness, the monotonous voice in the skull that never stops because never heard.

52

He rolls to the floor, snores asleep, while she cowers until dawn and the dogs' whimpering starts him awake, to lurch back across the wet bog.

JOHN MONTAGUE

BERKELEY FICTION REVIEW

53 f m


Ill And still the dog rose shines in the hedge. Petals beaten wide by rain, it sways slightly, at the tip of a slender, tangled, arching branch which, with her stick, she gathers into us.

P i l g r i m ' s [

"The wild rose is the only rose without thorns," she says, holding a wet blossom for a second, in a hand knotted as the knob of her stick. "Whenever I see it, I remember the Holy Mother of God and all she suffered."

An

Excerpt

from

T h e

L o s t

J O H N

Briefly the air is strong with the smell of that weak flower, offering its crumbled yellow cup and pale bleeding lips fading to white

P a d

N o t e b o o k

M O N T A G U E

MLfshe does not come, my heart stands still: Instead of summer, winter in a bound. And if she comes, my golden girl, Where do I stand? I die as well.

at the rim of each bruised and heartshaped petal.

It was a makeshift Notebook of the kind I am writing in now, small/ neat, vellum finish, an ordinary writing pad of the kind one might buy in any shabby little street comer stationer. I probably got it in Dublin "before Ileft, but why I carried it with me through Europe that sufnmer I don't really know: I was never one for writing home, though Improbably managed an occasional note, to stave the anxiety of my elders, who had never travelled outside Ireland except via the emigrant boat, ollagoaning, lamenting all the way. Besides, my wanderings were now accepted in the family with something near fatalism1, as a youthful, probably pagan ritual, leading me far from

54

JOHN MONTAGUE


Ill And still the dog rose shines in the hedge. Petals beaten wide by rain, it sways slightly, at the tip of a slender, tangled, arching branch which, with her stick, she gathers into us.

P i l g r i m ' s [

"The wild rose is the only rose without thorns," she says, holding a wet blossom for a second, in a hand knotted as the knob of her stick. "Whenever I see it, I remember the Holy Mother of God and all she suffered."

An

Excerpt

from

T h e

L o s t

J O H N

Briefly the air is strong with the smell of that weak flower, offering its crumbled yellow cup and pale bleeding lips fading to white

P a d

N o t e b o o k

M O N T A G U E

MLfshe does not come, my heart stands still: Instead of summer, winter in a bound. And if she comes, my golden girl, Where do I stand? I die as well.

at the rim of each bruised and heartshaped petal.

It was a makeshift Notebook of the kind I am writing in now, small/ neat, vellum finish, an ordinary writing pad of the kind one might buy in any shabby little street comer stationer. I probably got it in Dublin "before Ileft, but why I carried it with me through Europe that sufnmer I don't really know: I was never one for writing home, though Improbably managed an occasional note, to stave the anxiety of my elders, who had never travelled outside Ireland except via the emigrant boat, ollagoaning, lamenting all the way. Besides, my wanderings were now accepted in the family with something near fatalism1, as a youthful, probably pagan ritual, leading me far from

54

JOHN MONTAGUE


'mother church, motherland and mother.' I do remember sending a triumphant postcardfromPadua to my mother, who had a great devotion to St. Anthony, among many other saints, of course, and anotherfromAssisi, Giotto's St. Francis preaching to the birds. It Was always my casuistical contention that Europe was packed with shrines, where the saints we heard of in church had lived and died, and now the half century, 1950, had been proclaimed by the Pope himself as a Holy Year, Anno Santo, so that I could present myself as a pilgrim, ardent to reach the holy door. It was also my twenty-first year, and in the absence of any official recognition of my coming of age, I had planned and was now giving myself a sort of wander jahre, to assuage the hunger for all sorts of experience which I felt lacking in my native land. It was a rhythm that had become part of my life: I would reach out as far as I could on the continent, for as long as I could manage, and then return slowly, usually through repatriation, to Ireland. There I would manage to survive buoyed up by all I had seen and heard until I had to hit the road again. Years later, such escapes abroad would become part of ordinary Irish student life, but in my urgency I was something of a pioneer, a new kind of Hibernian savage, invading the Continent in search of art and love, Peregrinus Hibernicus, a horn mad celibate with a bright red comb and a roving eye. It was a different Europe, of course, not crisscrossed with charter planes, * not crammed with package tours and student fares. Then you made your way slowly, wearily, by boat and bus and train, waking gradually to some new excitement, like walking out into the aquatic bustle of Venice from San Lucia Station. Or cycling through the French countryside, surprised by lines of vines, the thick rustling of maize, giant red tomatoes, a glowing Van Gogh field of tournesol. Or the straight line through Parisfromthe Gare du Nord to the Youth Hostel at Porte d'Orleans. The fierce roar of the autoroute du Sud, thronged with long distance lorries and family cars, was still far away, in the crowded future. I suppose I was planning to keep a Journal: Gide had just received the Nobel Prize and introspection was fashionable. But I did nothing as systematic as that, for now only fragments of that summer float up before me; a curious visit to the headquarters of the Soviet Zone in Vienna; a night sleeping in a field outside Bologna, waking wet with morning dew; a zealous perusal of the subtleties of Sienese Art, trying to distinguish between all that gold and slanting eyes. Piecing the jigsaw, ]. realize that it was a bewildering but necessary summer of growth, a preparation for something unknown, some sensuous epiphany. But back to the Notebook, that small white block of writing paper that survived intact in my rucksack through all those months. It survived longer than that, and I may still unearth it, but as my wandering approach suggests, I 56

JOHN MONTAGUE

may not want to: it could betray and embarrass me. It already has, which is part of my story, a coda or tail to my lagging kite. The first part takes place in Florence, Firenze, where I had dropped off again on my way back from Rome. Yes, I had made it to the Holy City, all the way down the spine of Italy from Venice, my beard now red and ragged, my arms stippled with freckles. And, yes, I did visit the four Basilicas, and saw the Pope being ferried on the Sedia Gestatoria. I was within spitting distance of the pale bespectacled Pacelli, Pio Dodicesimo, because I was there as part of an official Delegation, the International Conference on Catholic Cinema, to give its full, sonorous title. That was because of my work on The Catholic Eagle at home in Dublin as a film critic. So I led a double life, nights in the Youth Hostel, a hectic barracks on the outskirts of Rome, where a late bus dropped me off in the evenings; days as a delegate at the Conference, sporting my one suit for official meetings, and receptions. A famous Irish actor was attending it also, using the trip as an excuse for a holiday. And he was very friendly to me, bringing me everywhere with him like a mascot, deferring to my unfledged but extreme opinions in literature and art, my wild plans. Together we gaped at the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, loitered through the endless rooms at the Vatican Gallery. Then back to his central hotel in the evenings where we drank cherries soaked in red wine on the terrace. And if I was lucky he would bring me with him afterwards to a trattoria, my one meal of the day. Between the heat and the wine I barely made it back. But let the journey curve back to Florence, through the white splendor of Rome's new railway station, after the Conference was over, and my generous actorfriendhad flown away,! had stayed in a pilgrim's hostel on the way down, and been thrown out for returning late. I tried to explain to the priest in charge that I was trying to combine sightseeing with pilgrimage but the Philistine refused to see my point. So this time I made my way to the Youth Hostel, another large, thronged happy building. The night burned with light and voices until well after midnight. And during the day I continued my exploration of Florence, from Ghiberti's Baptistery doors to the Roman theatre at Fiesole, where I sat stunned in the afternoon sunlight. My problem was time: three days was the limit in any hostel, and though I doubled it by hitchhiking to Siena and back, the time was approaching when I would have to leave. And I had only begun to understand the glory that was Florence! Earnest, intent, insufferable, I was determined to be an apostle of art, a martyr, if necessary, in the cause of beauty; but there seemed no way that I could simply stay on. I shared the washing up with an English-speaking South African, who was also on his European year before he went home to take over the family business. He was stocky, neat, and slow spoken, but perhaps because we were

BERKELEY FICTION REVIEW

57


'mother church, motherland and mother.' I do remember sending a triumphant postcardfromPadua to my mother, who had a great devotion to St. Anthony, among many other saints, of course, and anotherfromAssisi, Giotto's St. Francis preaching to the birds. It Was always my casuistical contention that Europe was packed with shrines, where the saints we heard of in church had lived and died, and now the half century, 1950, had been proclaimed by the Pope himself as a Holy Year, Anno Santo, so that I could present myself as a pilgrim, ardent to reach the holy door. It was also my twenty-first year, and in the absence of any official recognition of my coming of age, I had planned and was now giving myself a sort of wander jahre, to assuage the hunger for all sorts of experience which I felt lacking in my native land. It was a rhythm that had become part of my life: I would reach out as far as I could on the continent, for as long as I could manage, and then return slowly, usually through repatriation, to Ireland. There I would manage to survive buoyed up by all I had seen and heard until I had to hit the road again. Years later, such escapes abroad would become part of ordinary Irish student life, but in my urgency I was something of a pioneer, a new kind of Hibernian savage, invading the Continent in search of art and love, Peregrinus Hibernicus, a horn mad celibate with a bright red comb and a roving eye. It was a different Europe, of course, not crisscrossed with charter planes, * not crammed with package tours and student fares. Then you made your way slowly, wearily, by boat and bus and train, waking gradually to some new excitement, like walking out into the aquatic bustle of Venice from San Lucia Station. Or cycling through the French countryside, surprised by lines of vines, the thick rustling of maize, giant red tomatoes, a glowing Van Gogh field of tournesol. Or the straight line through Parisfromthe Gare du Nord to the Youth Hostel at Porte d'Orleans. The fierce roar of the autoroute du Sud, thronged with long distance lorries and family cars, was still far away, in the crowded future. I suppose I was planning to keep a Journal: Gide had just received the Nobel Prize and introspection was fashionable. But I did nothing as systematic as that, for now only fragments of that summer float up before me; a curious visit to the headquarters of the Soviet Zone in Vienna; a night sleeping in a field outside Bologna, waking wet with morning dew; a zealous perusal of the subtleties of Sienese Art, trying to distinguish between all that gold and slanting eyes. Piecing the jigsaw, ]. realize that it was a bewildering but necessary summer of growth, a preparation for something unknown, some sensuous epiphany. But back to the Notebook, that small white block of writing paper that survived intact in my rucksack through all those months. It survived longer than that, and I may still unearth it, but as my wandering approach suggests, I 56

JOHN MONTAGUE

may not want to: it could betray and embarrass me. It already has, which is part of my story, a coda or tail to my lagging kite. The first part takes place in Florence, Firenze, where I had dropped off again on my way back from Rome. Yes, I had made it to the Holy City, all the way down the spine of Italy from Venice, my beard now red and ragged, my arms stippled with freckles. And, yes, I did visit the four Basilicas, and saw the Pope being ferried on the Sedia Gestatoria. I was within spitting distance of the pale bespectacled Pacelli, Pio Dodicesimo, because I was there as part of an official Delegation, the International Conference on Catholic Cinema, to give its full, sonorous title. That was because of my work on The Catholic Eagle at home in Dublin as a film critic. So I led a double life, nights in the Youth Hostel, a hectic barracks on the outskirts of Rome, where a late bus dropped me off in the evenings; days as a delegate at the Conference, sporting my one suit for official meetings, and receptions. A famous Irish actor was attending it also, using the trip as an excuse for a holiday. And he was very friendly to me, bringing me everywhere with him like a mascot, deferring to my unfledged but extreme opinions in literature and art, my wild plans. Together we gaped at the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, loitered through the endless rooms at the Vatican Gallery. Then back to his central hotel in the evenings where we drank cherries soaked in red wine on the terrace. And if I was lucky he would bring me with him afterwards to a trattoria, my one meal of the day. Between the heat and the wine I barely made it back. But let the journey curve back to Florence, through the white splendor of Rome's new railway station, after the Conference was over, and my generous actorfriendhad flown away,! had stayed in a pilgrim's hostel on the way down, and been thrown out for returning late. I tried to explain to the priest in charge that I was trying to combine sightseeing with pilgrimage but the Philistine refused to see my point. So this time I made my way to the Youth Hostel, another large, thronged happy building. The night burned with light and voices until well after midnight. And during the day I continued my exploration of Florence, from Ghiberti's Baptistery doors to the Roman theatre at Fiesole, where I sat stunned in the afternoon sunlight. My problem was time: three days was the limit in any hostel, and though I doubled it by hitchhiking to Siena and back, the time was approaching when I would have to leave. And I had only begun to understand the glory that was Florence! Earnest, intent, insufferable, I was determined to be an apostle of art, a martyr, if necessary, in the cause of beauty; but there seemed no way that I could simply stay on. I shared the washing up with an English-speaking South African, who was also on his European year before he went home to take over the family business. He was stocky, neat, and slow spoken, but perhaps because we were

BERKELEY FICTION REVIEW

57


opposites, we made a good enough team. He knew nothing about art, except that he should know about it, so he probed me for the little I had found out for myself, through a battered copy of an old-fashioned guidebook in my rucksack, which I promised to leave him. There was a Victorian earnestness about Pieter; he probably disapproved of all this paganism but it had to be seen. So on my last morning he followed me through the city centre for a farewell look, and then bought me a light lunch, a Pqnino and a glass of wine, in a trattoria. We sat in the cool, listening for the rustle of the bead curtain as chatty Italians flowed in and out. All this richness and colour was about to leave my life; my rucksack was stowed under the table and I would shortly be tramping towards the station. I was sullen and down-in-the-mouth, a poor companion. Sympathetic to my silence, he suggested that I should wait for the night train, and come with him to meet a strange young girl he had found himself beside in a queue at American Express. "Very strange," he emphasized, in his clipped tones, under his little moustache. "You know how Americans are," he said, "very young but very loud. But she did ask me round. God knows what for. Says she's a painter and I told her I'd met this young poet chap from Ireland. Like to know what you'd make of her. Really would." He sounded uneasy, still terse but tense, for some reason. So instead of the afternoon train to Paris, or hitchhiking on the dusty fringe of some high road, I found myself squatting on the stone floor of a small studio, at the feet of a young American girl. She was quite young, a little older than me, pretty but shameless by my provincial standards, as she twiddled her brightly-painted toes right under our noses. Clearly my South African friend bored her, but she was lonely and wanted to speak English. I had never really known anyone like her, with a halter holding her already overflowing breasts, and shorts riding carelessly high on tanned legs. Except that I had met her once before...

I had met her in the Uffizi Gallery. Since I didn't have enough money to eat at midday I had taken to staying in a gallery through lunchtime, to avoid the sight of people eating; as well as to increase my knowledge of painting, of course. Trying to stave your hunger by staring at the details of master works is an interesting exercise in mortification, especially in the heat of the day; what I had developed was a restless and ambulatory form of the siesta, like a mad monk on hungerstrike outside the door of a refectory. Down in the Piazza della Signoria, happy tourists were tucking in, under gaily colored awnings. If I looked that way my eyes stuck out on stalks, so I stared at the paintings, as if through a glass.

On bad days, all still lifes were banned. Glorious pyramids of ruddycheekedfruit;vermilion cherries; green, black and purple grapes; soft furred peaches: on my imagination's palate they burst endlessly. Streams of juice ran down my cheeks, seeds stuck to be sucked in my teeth until in the intensity of my hallucination I ran from the room. Sticks of bread doubly disturbed me. Thank God I was in Florence and not in some Dutch museum, with rich ruddy sides of beef, freshly hung game or venison, the saliva-raising sight of a Breughel village feast, full bellies and distended codpieces^ rich food and lusty love afterwards. The worst I had to face Was Caravaggio's Adolescent Bacchus, his face already ruddy with wine fiimes, a piled bowl offruitbefore him to gorge on. Sometimes I tried to assuage one hunger by another, spending a long time, for example, in the cool decorum of the Botticelli room. Vemis rising frorh her half shell, a stratid of flaxen hair held deriturely over her pudenda, her visage pensive; she was as mysterious and refreshing as an early morning by the sea. Luckily, I had not yet becorrie an amateur of the oyster or coquilles Saint Jacques or that half shell might have been another source of temptation. I Was especially drawn to the room with the great Titians, large sensuous females at ease in their nudity,"as leisurely and complete as domestic animals. The reclining Venus of Urbino also had a hand over her gently swelling belly to cover her thatch, but the eye slid down that listless, boneless arm to join the fingers; it was a gently inviting slope, not a protective pudic gesture. And her soft, brown eyes and coiled auburn hair seemed to gather one in to her rich nakedness, to lie beside her on that tousled linen bedspread where she had drowsed so long, be it only as the pampered lapdog curled beside her crossed calves. But I would have to avoid even them if I had had no breakfast. The lightheadedness of hunger can lead to extreme forms of lust, and sometimes I was less aware of the luminous Venetian tonality of the paintings, less inclined to compare them with Bellini and Giorgione in their use of colour, that overcome by their sulky physical presence. A scraggyfrustratedIrish adolescent, I gaped at them hungrily, like the cats thrown in the Colosseum, and sometimes I could hardly hold myself back from leaping through the canvas to bite, even slice, a voluptuous golden haunch. Blake's 'lineaments of gratified desire' I thought, as my stomach growled. Would I ever know such satisfaction? As I was gazing at them I realised that someone Was watching them and me. It was a young blonde with brown tanned skin and ice blue eyes, like the com maiden of some Northern tale. With her cascading hair, her slender but full breasted figure, she looked as if she had stepped down from theframeof a painting! She had a red belt drawn tightly around her waist and wore bright

58

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59


opposites, we made a good enough team. He knew nothing about art, except that he should know about it, so he probed me for the little I had found out for myself, through a battered copy of an old-fashioned guidebook in my rucksack, which I promised to leave him. There was a Victorian earnestness about Pieter; he probably disapproved of all this paganism but it had to be seen. So on my last morning he followed me through the city centre for a farewell look, and then bought me a light lunch, a Pqnino and a glass of wine, in a trattoria. We sat in the cool, listening for the rustle of the bead curtain as chatty Italians flowed in and out. All this richness and colour was about to leave my life; my rucksack was stowed under the table and I would shortly be tramping towards the station. I was sullen and down-in-the-mouth, a poor companion. Sympathetic to my silence, he suggested that I should wait for the night train, and come with him to meet a strange young girl he had found himself beside in a queue at American Express. "Very strange," he emphasized, in his clipped tones, under his little moustache. "You know how Americans are," he said, "very young but very loud. But she did ask me round. God knows what for. Says she's a painter and I told her I'd met this young poet chap from Ireland. Like to know what you'd make of her. Really would." He sounded uneasy, still terse but tense, for some reason. So instead of the afternoon train to Paris, or hitchhiking on the dusty fringe of some high road, I found myself squatting on the stone floor of a small studio, at the feet of a young American girl. She was quite young, a little older than me, pretty but shameless by my provincial standards, as she twiddled her brightly-painted toes right under our noses. Clearly my South African friend bored her, but she was lonely and wanted to speak English. I had never really known anyone like her, with a halter holding her already overflowing breasts, and shorts riding carelessly high on tanned legs. Except that I had met her once before...

I had met her in the Uffizi Gallery. Since I didn't have enough money to eat at midday I had taken to staying in a gallery through lunchtime, to avoid the sight of people eating; as well as to increase my knowledge of painting, of course. Trying to stave your hunger by staring at the details of master works is an interesting exercise in mortification, especially in the heat of the day; what I had developed was a restless and ambulatory form of the siesta, like a mad monk on hungerstrike outside the door of a refectory. Down in the Piazza della Signoria, happy tourists were tucking in, under gaily colored awnings. If I looked that way my eyes stuck out on stalks, so I stared at the paintings, as if through a glass.

On bad days, all still lifes were banned. Glorious pyramids of ruddycheekedfruit;vermilion cherries; green, black and purple grapes; soft furred peaches: on my imagination's palate they burst endlessly. Streams of juice ran down my cheeks, seeds stuck to be sucked in my teeth until in the intensity of my hallucination I ran from the room. Sticks of bread doubly disturbed me. Thank God I was in Florence and not in some Dutch museum, with rich ruddy sides of beef, freshly hung game or venison, the saliva-raising sight of a Breughel village feast, full bellies and distended codpieces^ rich food and lusty love afterwards. The worst I had to face Was Caravaggio's Adolescent Bacchus, his face already ruddy with wine fiimes, a piled bowl offruitbefore him to gorge on. Sometimes I tried to assuage one hunger by another, spending a long time, for example, in the cool decorum of the Botticelli room. Vemis rising frorh her half shell, a stratid of flaxen hair held deriturely over her pudenda, her visage pensive; she was as mysterious and refreshing as an early morning by the sea. Luckily, I had not yet becorrie an amateur of the oyster or coquilles Saint Jacques or that half shell might have been another source of temptation. I Was especially drawn to the room with the great Titians, large sensuous females at ease in their nudity,"as leisurely and complete as domestic animals. The reclining Venus of Urbino also had a hand over her gently swelling belly to cover her thatch, but the eye slid down that listless, boneless arm to join the fingers; it was a gently inviting slope, not a protective pudic gesture. And her soft, brown eyes and coiled auburn hair seemed to gather one in to her rich nakedness, to lie beside her on that tousled linen bedspread where she had drowsed so long, be it only as the pampered lapdog curled beside her crossed calves. But I would have to avoid even them if I had had no breakfast. The lightheadedness of hunger can lead to extreme forms of lust, and sometimes I was less aware of the luminous Venetian tonality of the paintings, less inclined to compare them with Bellini and Giorgione in their use of colour, that overcome by their sulky physical presence. A scraggyfrustratedIrish adolescent, I gaped at them hungrily, like the cats thrown in the Colosseum, and sometimes I could hardly hold myself back from leaping through the canvas to bite, even slice, a voluptuous golden haunch. Blake's 'lineaments of gratified desire' I thought, as my stomach growled. Would I ever know such satisfaction? As I was gazing at them I realised that someone Was watching them and me. It was a young blonde with brown tanned skin and ice blue eyes, like the com maiden of some Northern tale. With her cascading hair, her slender but full breasted figure, she looked as if she had stepped down from theframeof a painting! She had a red belt drawn tightly around her waist and wore bright

58

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II

JOHN MONTAGUE

59


red slippers of a kind I had seen in the market behind the Duomo. They seemed to flicker in and out to match her impatience, as she sized me up before Speaking: "Gee, I wish I could lay on the paint like that," she said in a nasal American voice, almost a whine. "What's this guy's name again?" Grateful for the excuse to show off my scant knowledge, I gabbled about Titian, Tiziano Vecelli, and his part in the Venetian High Renaissance. She listened with what I hoped was interest, contemplating me with her expressionless eyes. Then she turned on her heel and left with a parting shot that stung: "Thanks for the lecture, Mick." She made it sound like hick, an insult I knew from my reading. Was it so obvious that I was Irish, a gabbling Paddy? "I have to run to American Express. See you around, sometime, maybe." The last word was emphasized, may-be drawn out with a scorn until it seemed to rhyme with unlikely or not if I see you first, buddy. So I had bored her. I watched her tight little bum swagger down the corridor away from me, the lift of each hip a gesture of disdain. Or so I thought, looking hopelessly after thefirstpretty girl I had spoken to in months . . . And yet here I was speaking to her again, my head only a short distance from her warm brown legs and knees. And she was finding me amusing, or at least less boring than my South African friend, whom she teased relentlessly. L. "Are they really all like you down there? We've got negroes, too, you know, [ but you sound like somefruitymixture of British stuck-up and Georgia crack- f er when you talk about them. Let 'em be, they can't be as bad as you sound. Bet your women like them — they got the old jelly roll." And she waggled her bottom on the chair, above him. Pieter did not know how to take her as she rambled on about race and colour and sex: I gathered she was from New York and had definite views about all three. For the moment, I decided to agree with her about them all, if it insured my being close to her for even a while longer. Maybe God will be good, I thought with a mixture of faith, hope and lechery. He decided to master his irritation by showing that he did not take her seriously; she was too young. "I think you are just a naughty girl," he said indulgently, waving his imaginary swagger stick, a short ruler he had found on the floor, near an easel. She went off into wild giggles. "Don't you shake your little stick at me, Mr. Man," she said in what I could recognize to be a parody of Southern accent. Then when he began to look not only puzzled, but angry: "Haven't you read Freud, you nuthead? You're wagging that stick at me because you want to beat or fuck me, but you don't dare ask, do you, you silly racist prick?" Raging, thin-lipped, my South African friend rose to go. He expected me to come with him, but I had been explaining to her earlier about having to leave the Hostel. Watching me hesitate, she saw a chance to hurt him still

And spent the rest of the month in that cot, except when we quarreled and I slept on the stone floor in my sleeping bag. A strange duel took place in that hot narrow cell, on the fourth floor of an old Florentine house: a duel of unequals. There was my timidity, so much a product of my time and place, our forgotten island off the broken coast of Europe, which had largely avoided the war. And her avid American greed for experience, spoilt child of a rich but predatory world. We were both looking for something, but she expected it, I vainly hoped for it; the lately victorious and the colonial victim were bound to be at loggerheads. She wouldn't help me, atfirst,during those long, hot nights: every move was left to me. And my knowledge of female anatomy was restricted to picture gazing; lacking sisters or adventurous girl friends, I was a typical product of an Irish clerical education, eager but ignorant. Sometimes I made it to the magic centre, but often I fumbled, grappling blindly in that airless tiny oven of a room, where our bodies stuck together like stamps. And every time I fell back, she made sure it hurt. "I'm not going to help you. You're all that I hate, kids that are clumsy and stupid. Why should I show the works, you little Irish Catholic prick. Fuck you —" At first, I tried to give some smart answer, like, "but that's just what I want to do." But after tirades like these I usually lay awake; silent, hurt, still hoping. And she would rise in the morning, blithe as if nothing had happened. Then we would go to take a caffe latte together, inside the bead curtain if it was too hot, on the sidewalk if there was a cool breeze. And then we would begin our day together, which was usually easier than the night, with her painting, and me trying to write. And as the days passed I began to hope against hope that I might be able to please her. She was my meal ticket, of course, and the unsubtle art of freeloading was one I had already learnt a little of in the drab schbol of Dublin pub life in the late Forties. But I also believed dimly in my mystic mission as a young poet, and around us lay all the ingredients for an idyll. With that impossible mixture of hunger and idealism, I set out to try and understand this ferocious young woman whom fate had flung directly across my pilgrim path.

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more. "Why don't you park your rucksack here? You look too young to be out but you can't be dumber than him. If you are, you can always just sleep on the floor for a few days." With a weak attempt at a chilly look, the South African left, and Wanda Lang and I stared at each other. That hot July night in Florence, I slept iri her narrow bed, beneath her easel. Ill

61


red slippers of a kind I had seen in the market behind the Duomo. They seemed to flicker in and out to match her impatience, as she sized me up before Speaking: "Gee, I wish I could lay on the paint like that," she said in a nasal American voice, almost a whine. "What's this guy's name again?" Grateful for the excuse to show off my scant knowledge, I gabbled about Titian, Tiziano Vecelli, and his part in the Venetian High Renaissance. She listened with what I hoped was interest, contemplating me with her expressionless eyes. Then she turned on her heel and left with a parting shot that stung: "Thanks for the lecture, Mick." She made it sound like hick, an insult I knew from my reading. Was it so obvious that I was Irish, a gabbling Paddy? "I have to run to American Express. See you around, sometime, maybe." The last word was emphasized, may-be drawn out with a scorn until it seemed to rhyme with unlikely or not if I see you first, buddy. So I had bored her. I watched her tight little bum swagger down the corridor away from me, the lift of each hip a gesture of disdain. Or so I thought, looking hopelessly after thefirstpretty girl I had spoken to in months . . . And yet here I was speaking to her again, my head only a short distance from her warm brown legs and knees. And she was finding me amusing, or at least less boring than my South African friend, whom she teased relentlessly. L. "Are they really all like you down there? We've got negroes, too, you know, [ but you sound like somefruitymixture of British stuck-up and Georgia crack- f er when you talk about them. Let 'em be, they can't be as bad as you sound. Bet your women like them — they got the old jelly roll." And she waggled her bottom on the chair, above him. Pieter did not know how to take her as she rambled on about race and colour and sex: I gathered she was from New York and had definite views about all three. For the moment, I decided to agree with her about them all, if it insured my being close to her for even a while longer. Maybe God will be good, I thought with a mixture of faith, hope and lechery. He decided to master his irritation by showing that he did not take her seriously; she was too young. "I think you are just a naughty girl," he said indulgently, waving his imaginary swagger stick, a short ruler he had found on the floor, near an easel. She went off into wild giggles. "Don't you shake your little stick at me, Mr. Man," she said in what I could recognize to be a parody of Southern accent. Then when he began to look not only puzzled, but angry: "Haven't you read Freud, you nuthead? You're wagging that stick at me because you want to beat or fuck me, but you don't dare ask, do you, you silly racist prick?" Raging, thin-lipped, my South African friend rose to go. He expected me to come with him, but I had been explaining to her earlier about having to leave the Hostel. Watching me hesitate, she saw a chance to hurt him still

And spent the rest of the month in that cot, except when we quarreled and I slept on the stone floor in my sleeping bag. A strange duel took place in that hot narrow cell, on the fourth floor of an old Florentine house: a duel of unequals. There was my timidity, so much a product of my time and place, our forgotten island off the broken coast of Europe, which had largely avoided the war. And her avid American greed for experience, spoilt child of a rich but predatory world. We were both looking for something, but she expected it, I vainly hoped for it; the lately victorious and the colonial victim were bound to be at loggerheads. She wouldn't help me, atfirst,during those long, hot nights: every move was left to me. And my knowledge of female anatomy was restricted to picture gazing; lacking sisters or adventurous girl friends, I was a typical product of an Irish clerical education, eager but ignorant. Sometimes I made it to the magic centre, but often I fumbled, grappling blindly in that airless tiny oven of a room, where our bodies stuck together like stamps. And every time I fell back, she made sure it hurt. "I'm not going to help you. You're all that I hate, kids that are clumsy and stupid. Why should I show the works, you little Irish Catholic prick. Fuck you —" At first, I tried to give some smart answer, like, "but that's just what I want to do." But after tirades like these I usually lay awake; silent, hurt, still hoping. And she would rise in the morning, blithe as if nothing had happened. Then we would go to take a caffe latte together, inside the bead curtain if it was too hot, on the sidewalk if there was a cool breeze. And then we would begin our day together, which was usually easier than the night, with her painting, and me trying to write. And as the days passed I began to hope against hope that I might be able to please her. She was my meal ticket, of course, and the unsubtle art of freeloading was one I had already learnt a little of in the drab schbol of Dublin pub life in the late Forties. But I also believed dimly in my mystic mission as a young poet, and around us lay all the ingredients for an idyll. With that impossible mixture of hunger and idealism, I set out to try and understand this ferocious young woman whom fate had flung directly across my pilgrim path.

60

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more. "Why don't you park your rucksack here? You look too young to be out but you can't be dumber than him. If you are, you can always just sleep on the floor for a few days." With a weak attempt at a chilly look, the South African left, and Wanda Lang and I stared at each other. That hot July night in Florence, I slept iri her narrow bed, beneath her easel. Ill

61


IV Wanda Lang was pretty, rich, but wild and clawing as a lost alley cat She was looking for the way out of an Irish Catholic childhood, stumbling towards fulfillment, but seeking something that would anneal, annul the empty ache that was already eating her. Somewhere along the line, someone or something had hurt her, in a more drastic way than all the pious regulations of my education. Or perhaps the combination of money and freedom that her background seemed to offer her was only an illusion that left her still empty and angry. Whatever the reason, she was trying to work it out, in her own strange way, far from her compatriots, in a loneliness that somehow resembled my own intense, Quixotic quest. Perhaps sex would help? She certainly seemed to have tried it, to judge by her wild language, her ceaseless use of words like prick and ass and cunt. In theory I was all for calling a spade and bloody shovel, but to hear her pretty young mouth spew swearwords scandalized me; when she was angry it rang like a litany, a litany of desecration, of blasphemy, but also of loss and longing if I had been able to hear its dark rhythms. But now her thing was art. Her elder brother was a painter, whom she admired blindly, and wanted to emulate. Although, she emphasized, he would be disgusted if he knew she was daring to paint, herself. He had always discouraged her because he was a real painter, a serious painter, like Paul Klee, or Pete Mondrian, who was the biggest modem painter, who had replaced nature. Did I know his tree series? I had never heard of Mondrian, and I certainly couldn't judge the kind of painting she was doing, carefully planned with an architecture of lines, constructed with the ruler the South African had waggled at her, and then intently filled in squares, triangles and lozenges of color. But she really worked: after breakfast, she set up her easel in the middle of the room to catch what little light came through our high window, and with bare midriff and loosely tied hair, she pointed herself at the canvas silently for hours. Heat flared up the Florentine sky, with its glimpses of red bricked roofs, the ochre facade of a high building. Her hair would tumble sweatily down her forehead until she unconsciously untied her blouse and stood barebreasted before the canvas, like a defiant young Amazon. Now that I know more of painters and painting, I know that she was trying to imitate somebody, her brother probably, and his peers, in a pathetic parody of their intent professional preoccupation. While she sweated before her easel, I tried to write poems. But it was too hot to concentrate properly and I was so obsessed with her presence before me in the small room that I could think only on one subject. Particularly when she stood naked to the waist before the easel, hairripplingdown to her

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hips, oblivious of my surreptitious glances. I tried to writelittle poems about her, in praise of her unmarked young body, its mixture of sensuousness and childish boldness. They were Chinese lyrics, in the style of Pound, whose incarceration had made him an idol for the Irish young: a prisoner for the cause. Her blonde hair pours down her studded spine; bare to the waist, she stands, my girl. Surrounded by the shy lasses of my country, I had touched, but rarely seen breasts. In Ireland, it was the blind leading the blind but with Wanda I could stare and stare endlessly, feasting my eyes on those mysterious forbidden globes before I began to try and net them in words. How warm her white breasts! Two bowls of cream with Her nipples, bright cherries. Such naive tenderness! But the ardour of that young .man in the Florentine heat reaches out for my indulgence across three decades. We were a pair, a team in our blundering ambition: as she dragged her brush across an area of canvas, or peered before adding a touch of color, I tried to study her as a painter might, my first life class. But a very modem one, for I was painting a standing nude who was trying to paint an abstract: a nearly Cubist vision of reality! As she works, she pouts. Her face is young, serious. Her eyes, sharp blue. And so forth. One day she looked over my shoulder. "Hey there," she exclaimed, "you make me sound nice." And she looked at me with warm, surprised eyes. Then she leaned over and gave me a quick kiss, the first she had ever given me in daylight From then on, the Notebook followed us everywhere, to museums, restaurants, cafes, sometimes churches. She had taken to drawing in it; wild, impulsive scrawls to go with the poems. Clearly, I had found the way to her heart, for even in bed she began to ease up, relaxing her guard to tiro point where she seemed almost tender. And I was beginning to improve a little, learning how to please, to be a lover, although she was already so precocious that I lagged far behind; a blundering innocent, who had even to be taught

BERKELEY FICTION REVIEW

63


IV Wanda Lang was pretty, rich, but wild and clawing as a lost alley cat She was looking for the way out of an Irish Catholic childhood, stumbling towards fulfillment, but seeking something that would anneal, annul the empty ache that was already eating her. Somewhere along the line, someone or something had hurt her, in a more drastic way than all the pious regulations of my education. Or perhaps the combination of money and freedom that her background seemed to offer her was only an illusion that left her still empty and angry. Whatever the reason, she was trying to work it out, in her own strange way, far from her compatriots, in a loneliness that somehow resembled my own intense, Quixotic quest. Perhaps sex would help? She certainly seemed to have tried it, to judge by her wild language, her ceaseless use of words like prick and ass and cunt. In theory I was all for calling a spade and bloody shovel, but to hear her pretty young mouth spew swearwords scandalized me; when she was angry it rang like a litany, a litany of desecration, of blasphemy, but also of loss and longing if I had been able to hear its dark rhythms. But now her thing was art. Her elder brother was a painter, whom she admired blindly, and wanted to emulate. Although, she emphasized, he would be disgusted if he knew she was daring to paint, herself. He had always discouraged her because he was a real painter, a serious painter, like Paul Klee, or Pete Mondrian, who was the biggest modem painter, who had replaced nature. Did I know his tree series? I had never heard of Mondrian, and I certainly couldn't judge the kind of painting she was doing, carefully planned with an architecture of lines, constructed with the ruler the South African had waggled at her, and then intently filled in squares, triangles and lozenges of color. But she really worked: after breakfast, she set up her easel in the middle of the room to catch what little light came through our high window, and with bare midriff and loosely tied hair, she pointed herself at the canvas silently for hours. Heat flared up the Florentine sky, with its glimpses of red bricked roofs, the ochre facade of a high building. Her hair would tumble sweatily down her forehead until she unconsciously untied her blouse and stood barebreasted before the canvas, like a defiant young Amazon. Now that I know more of painters and painting, I know that she was trying to imitate somebody, her brother probably, and his peers, in a pathetic parody of their intent professional preoccupation. While she sweated before her easel, I tried to write poems. But it was too hot to concentrate properly and I was so obsessed with her presence before me in the small room that I could think only on one subject. Particularly when she stood naked to the waist before the easel, hairripplingdown to her

62

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hips, oblivious of my surreptitious glances. I tried to writelittle poems about her, in praise of her unmarked young body, its mixture of sensuousness and childish boldness. They were Chinese lyrics, in the style of Pound, whose incarceration had made him an idol for the Irish young: a prisoner for the cause. Her blonde hair pours down her studded spine; bare to the waist, she stands, my girl. Surrounded by the shy lasses of my country, I had touched, but rarely seen breasts. In Ireland, it was the blind leading the blind but with Wanda I could stare and stare endlessly, feasting my eyes on those mysterious forbidden globes before I began to try and net them in words. How warm her white breasts! Two bowls of cream with Her nipples, bright cherries. Such naive tenderness! But the ardour of that young .man in the Florentine heat reaches out for my indulgence across three decades. We were a pair, a team in our blundering ambition: as she dragged her brush across an area of canvas, or peered before adding a touch of color, I tried to study her as a painter might, my first life class. But a very modem one, for I was painting a standing nude who was trying to paint an abstract: a nearly Cubist vision of reality! As she works, she pouts. Her face is young, serious. Her eyes, sharp blue. And so forth. One day she looked over my shoulder. "Hey there," she exclaimed, "you make me sound nice." And she looked at me with warm, surprised eyes. Then she leaned over and gave me a quick kiss, the first she had ever given me in daylight From then on, the Notebook followed us everywhere, to museums, restaurants, cafes, sometimes churches. She had taken to drawing in it; wild, impulsive scrawls to go with the poems. Clearly, I had found the way to her heart, for even in bed she began to ease up, relaxing her guard to tiro point where she seemed almost tender. And I was beginning to improve a little, learning how to please, to be a lover, although she was already so precocious that I lagged far behind; a blundering innocent, who had even to be taught

BERKELEY FICTION REVIEW

63


how to kiss properly. She taught me other tricks, things that I only half understood, bending her urgent young body like a bow, as she searched avidly for the next sensation, arching her spine, like a cat, in shudders of self delight Somehow, desperately, I felt that this was wrong, that wild experiment should be the joyous fruit of love, not its budding point. But who was I to argue with her? She already knew so much more than I did about the mechanics of sex that our couplings were bound to seem clumsy and ludicrous, forcing her into the incongruous role of the older woman, the instructress of male naivete. 'No, touch me here. Higher up. And keep that other hand down. And slowly, gently. Women like to be stroked.' Or, in another mood: 'Don't tell me you never did it like this! That's the best way to penetrate, to get it deep. Look at the animals: I thought you said you were brought up on a farm. Some cowboy you are!' And when I was spent, her hand or tongue would reach out, to revive me, rise me. I did my best, or thought I did, to follow her urgent instructions. And she tried to control, restrain whatever irritation my incompetence caused her, compared to her previous male friends. Whoever had taught her the erotic arts had done it well, for there seemed to be little that she did not know: taking baths together like mad children, moving the bed until it was under the wall mirror and dancing together naked, before we slid to the floor, or the bed. And for a while we seemed to enter into, at least hover near, the sweet conspiracy of lovers, although such words of endearment were not part of her harsh vocabulary. The widow next door, for instance, was shocked to discover that there was a young man staying with Wanda, a half-naked savage with red hair. As we shared a lavatory on the landing it was difficult to avoid meeting, but she would lower her eyes when she saw us passing. And once when Wanda came to the door to kiss me, forgetting to cover her breasts, rather not bothering, the dark, startled Italian woman crossed herself several times, lifting the crucifix on her dark dress.

To be twenty-one, to have a girlfriend, — a mistress! — and to have the run of Florence; it seemed like the fulfillment of the dream that had lured me all the way from Ireland. I had padded down its narrow streets for more than a week before I met her and now she had given me a month's reprieve, with the added pleasure of being a guide to a beautiful young woman. For she seemed to have lived in Florence as if it were any flat American city, seeing, sensing its quality without understanding it. She knew it was a place to be, but why wasn't clear to her. So the little I knew I lavished on her while I kept boning up in the British Institute library, to impress her, as I had tried that first time in the Uffizi. Laying my small treasures of knowledge before her like a faith-

64

JOHN MONTAGUE

£

-v

£

ful spaniel, I was often oblivious to the ironies of the situation, as when I introduced her to the Fra Angelicos in the Convent of San Marco. The first time we got turned away because of the shorts and halter she was wearing. But we came back and in those cool cloisters, shaded by flower beds and Lebanese cedars, we saw the fruits of the saintly painter's meditation, a guide to prayer, a fervent hymn to the glory of a Christian God. A long fingered St Dominic clasping, embracing the Cross down which ran the ruby rivulets of Christ's passion, the delicate dialogue of the Annunciation, the blue of the Virgin's cloak and the multicolored wings of the angel Gabriel, the rainbow tinted dance of the Elect in his Last Judgement; I could not help but hush before such feeling. These were not the gaudy repository images of my Ulster Catholic childhood; they seemed to breathe a mystical aroma, as light and radiant as the wing of a butterfly. Somewhere in me my fading belief stirred, the very faith I felt I had to disdain in order to live. But for Wanda they were only pretty gewgaws, relics from a world long dead, inspired by emotions that no one would ever need again. Emerging from that rich silence she enquired plaintively; "They're pretty colours, but why did he have to waste so much time painting virgins and saints and old stuff like that? We've left all that behind now. My brother says real painting should only be about itself." So I brought her to the Medici Palace, also built by Michelozzo. For me it was a Poundian paradigm of creative order, the walls where the Medici, those munificent mafia, lived and lavished their wealth. They were all there in the ornate fescoes of Gozzoli, Emperors and Patriarchs invited from the East to join them in a stately procession through the landscape of Tuscany. It might be based on the Magi, but the emphasis was on earthly glory, clothes stiff with ornament, gloriously caparisoned horses. She looked for a long time at the handsome young man, astride a leopard. "I like him," she said, and when I explained that he was the brother of Lorenzo the Magnificent she added: "He's as pretty as my brother," and smacked her lips. She went silent at last in the Medici crypt before the unfinished torsos of Michelangelo. She lingered before Dusk and Dawn, froze like a gundog before Day, fighting to free himself, large muscled and intent,fromcloudy matter. But it was the graceful, sombre figure of Night, its large breasts and bent head, with sad, brooding eyelids,which finally got to her. "Gee-sus," she exclaimed, "I thought these were done by a man. He must have been pretty lonely to feel like that. I didn't know you could get that deep down chipping a stone. It's as bad as the blues." She tried to thank me, in her own way, for trying to show her so much, for sharing. Day after day passed without a dispute, and in bed at night she was, if not submissive, more subdued in her demands, less insulting in her reBERKELEY FICTION REVIEW

65


how to kiss properly. She taught me other tricks, things that I only half understood, bending her urgent young body like a bow, as she searched avidly for the next sensation, arching her spine, like a cat, in shudders of self delight Somehow, desperately, I felt that this was wrong, that wild experiment should be the joyous fruit of love, not its budding point. But who was I to argue with her? She already knew so much more than I did about the mechanics of sex that our couplings were bound to seem clumsy and ludicrous, forcing her into the incongruous role of the older woman, the instructress of male naivete. 'No, touch me here. Higher up. And keep that other hand down. And slowly, gently. Women like to be stroked.' Or, in another mood: 'Don't tell me you never did it like this! That's the best way to penetrate, to get it deep. Look at the animals: I thought you said you were brought up on a farm. Some cowboy you are!' And when I was spent, her hand or tongue would reach out, to revive me, rise me. I did my best, or thought I did, to follow her urgent instructions. And she tried to control, restrain whatever irritation my incompetence caused her, compared to her previous male friends. Whoever had taught her the erotic arts had done it well, for there seemed to be little that she did not know: taking baths together like mad children, moving the bed until it was under the wall mirror and dancing together naked, before we slid to the floor, or the bed. And for a while we seemed to enter into, at least hover near, the sweet conspiracy of lovers, although such words of endearment were not part of her harsh vocabulary. The widow next door, for instance, was shocked to discover that there was a young man staying with Wanda, a half-naked savage with red hair. As we shared a lavatory on the landing it was difficult to avoid meeting, but she would lower her eyes when she saw us passing. And once when Wanda came to the door to kiss me, forgetting to cover her breasts, rather not bothering, the dark, startled Italian woman crossed herself several times, lifting the crucifix on her dark dress.

To be twenty-one, to have a girlfriend, — a mistress! — and to have the run of Florence; it seemed like the fulfillment of the dream that had lured me all the way from Ireland. I had padded down its narrow streets for more than a week before I met her and now she had given me a month's reprieve, with the added pleasure of being a guide to a beautiful young woman. For she seemed to have lived in Florence as if it were any flat American city, seeing, sensing its quality without understanding it. She knew it was a place to be, but why wasn't clear to her. So the little I knew I lavished on her while I kept boning up in the British Institute library, to impress her, as I had tried that first time in the Uffizi. Laying my small treasures of knowledge before her like a faith-

64

JOHN MONTAGUE

£

-v

£

ful spaniel, I was often oblivious to the ironies of the situation, as when I introduced her to the Fra Angelicos in the Convent of San Marco. The first time we got turned away because of the shorts and halter she was wearing. But we came back and in those cool cloisters, shaded by flower beds and Lebanese cedars, we saw the fruits of the saintly painter's meditation, a guide to prayer, a fervent hymn to the glory of a Christian God. A long fingered St Dominic clasping, embracing the Cross down which ran the ruby rivulets of Christ's passion, the delicate dialogue of the Annunciation, the blue of the Virgin's cloak and the multicolored wings of the angel Gabriel, the rainbow tinted dance of the Elect in his Last Judgement; I could not help but hush before such feeling. These were not the gaudy repository images of my Ulster Catholic childhood; they seemed to breathe a mystical aroma, as light and radiant as the wing of a butterfly. Somewhere in me my fading belief stirred, the very faith I felt I had to disdain in order to live. But for Wanda they were only pretty gewgaws, relics from a world long dead, inspired by emotions that no one would ever need again. Emerging from that rich silence she enquired plaintively; "They're pretty colours, but why did he have to waste so much time painting virgins and saints and old stuff like that? We've left all that behind now. My brother says real painting should only be about itself." So I brought her to the Medici Palace, also built by Michelozzo. For me it was a Poundian paradigm of creative order, the walls where the Medici, those munificent mafia, lived and lavished their wealth. They were all there in the ornate fescoes of Gozzoli, Emperors and Patriarchs invited from the East to join them in a stately procession through the landscape of Tuscany. It might be based on the Magi, but the emphasis was on earthly glory, clothes stiff with ornament, gloriously caparisoned horses. She looked for a long time at the handsome young man, astride a leopard. "I like him," she said, and when I explained that he was the brother of Lorenzo the Magnificent she added: "He's as pretty as my brother," and smacked her lips. She went silent at last in the Medici crypt before the unfinished torsos of Michelangelo. She lingered before Dusk and Dawn, froze like a gundog before Day, fighting to free himself, large muscled and intent,fromcloudy matter. But it was the graceful, sombre figure of Night, its large breasts and bent head, with sad, brooding eyelids,which finally got to her. "Gee-sus," she exclaimed, "I thought these were done by a man. He must have been pretty lonely to feel like that. I didn't know you could get that deep down chipping a stone. It's as bad as the blues." She tried to thank me, in her own way, for trying to show her so much, for sharing. Day after day passed without a dispute, and in bed at night she was, if not submissive, more subdued in her demands, less insulting in her reBERKELEY FICTION REVIEW

65


marks on my performance. Something akin to peace began to grow between us. Surprised by beauty daily, we made our fumbling efforts to create it ourselves, and afterwards we strolled by the Amo, holding hands as the sun lit the red of the roofs, the intense yellow brown of the river. On every walk we seemed to discover something, a lovely Venus in the Boboli Gardens, the Deposition of Christ from the Cross by Pontormo, in a church near the Ponte Vecchio. And if I didn't know about Mondrian, I had heard of Masaccio, Big Tom, and led her to obscure churches where the walls were covered with his work, Adam and Eve fleeing from paradise, his head bowed, her hands shading her body from a relentless red angel. This time she did not complain about but admired the treatment of the subject; after all, Florentine painting was a disciplined art, with the kind of geometry of perspective that she was looking for in Modem Art; colour called to colour, shape balanced shape. From the blue and white cherubs of delta Robbia to the flower covered meadows of Botticelli's Spring, I tried to offer it all to her, watching as she watched, ignorant but excited, a child gazing at a galaxy of dazzling stars. Back in the Botticelli room she danced for joy, like the three graces in their transparent veils, and when I told her that Venus rising from her shell was Simonetta, the beloved of the young man riding the Gozzoli leopard, she clapped her hands like someone listening to a nursery story for the first time. Especially when I added: "She makes me think a bit of you, when you look thoughtful, with your hair down." And danced for me again, shyly moving her lissom body to the inaudible rhythms of the paintings. My heart was in my mouth as I watched, her graceful heel and instep echoing the flaxen-haired Florentine beauties of the wall. And then she bowed, and broke into a phrase of Italian I did not know: Mi place molto bailore, "I really love to dance." When she hadfirstcome to Florence she had tried to learn Italianfroma family to which she had an introduction, again arranged by her brother. Now she asked them if she could bring me along and told them proudly that I was a poet. With the deference of older Europeans to any mention of higher art I was received, scraggy and sweating in my single suit, as if I were the real thing, instead of a gaping novice. Red wine flowed, pastasciutta and liquid syllables of Italian that sounded splendid even if I only dimly understood. And when our host began to quote Dante, with all the sonorous intimacy of a Florentine, I responded with Yeats, boom answering boom, like church bells ringing across the city. For the first time I heard those great lines describing the plight of the doomed lovers, Paolo and Francesca, their adulterous eyes meeting over a beloved book: When we read how a lover slaked his drouth upon those long desired lips, then he

66

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who never shall be taken from my side all trembling, kissed my ardent mouth. and I countered with: Beloved, may your sleep be sound That have found it where you fed. Our host's wife beamed. Wanda beamed. And when they wouldn't let us leave after lunch but ushered us for the siesta into a small white room with a real bed with laundered linen sheets Wanda was beside herself with:girlish delight. "They must think we're married or engaged or something." And she blushed. And in those cool white sheets we made love with no preconceptions, no inhibitions, sweetly, tenderly, turning to each other with mute cries of delight, nibbling and hugging like children before we started again, our lips still joined by a light skein of kisses. That afternoon was her richest gift to me, a glimpse of bare ecstasy, of the sensuous fulfillment I longed for in my damp, distant island. And like all such moments it had a scent of permanence, a small addition to the sum of sweetness in the world. Finally she fell asleep, her blonde head resting on my numbed arm, in total ease. In the crook of my arm my love's head rests; in each breath I taste her trust.

VI That was our high point, the crest of the wave. But it couldn't last, it seems; we soon plunged down. Already that evening, as we stumbled home, she had begun to turn sour. Between the harmony of the afternoon and the airless heat of her little room, the tininess of the narrow iron bed, was a distance she couldn't, wouldn't cross. When she was in that mood, she had to yield to every caprice, however hurtful. There is a certain kind of character that needs to strike ovt, to wound, and if the victim cares enough to complain, all the worse for them. I fought back at first, but when I found that not only was it useless but it made things much worse, I lapsed into stricken silence. As she did also, except that she could dredge depths of melancholy, of sadness that I had never seen in any one before. As the heat grew daily, we took to going to a suburban swimming popl, to escapefromthe baking claustrophobia of her little studio. The pool was a gaudy, massive imitation of the BERKELEY FICTION REVIEW

67


marks on my performance. Something akin to peace began to grow between us. Surprised by beauty daily, we made our fumbling efforts to create it ourselves, and afterwards we strolled by the Amo, holding hands as the sun lit the red of the roofs, the intense yellow brown of the river. On every walk we seemed to discover something, a lovely Venus in the Boboli Gardens, the Deposition of Christ from the Cross by Pontormo, in a church near the Ponte Vecchio. And if I didn't know about Mondrian, I had heard of Masaccio, Big Tom, and led her to obscure churches where the walls were covered with his work, Adam and Eve fleeing from paradise, his head bowed, her hands shading her body from a relentless red angel. This time she did not complain about but admired the treatment of the subject; after all, Florentine painting was a disciplined art, with the kind of geometry of perspective that she was looking for in Modem Art; colour called to colour, shape balanced shape. From the blue and white cherubs of delta Robbia to the flower covered meadows of Botticelli's Spring, I tried to offer it all to her, watching as she watched, ignorant but excited, a child gazing at a galaxy of dazzling stars. Back in the Botticelli room she danced for joy, like the three graces in their transparent veils, and when I told her that Venus rising from her shell was Simonetta, the beloved of the young man riding the Gozzoli leopard, she clapped her hands like someone listening to a nursery story for the first time. Especially when I added: "She makes me think a bit of you, when you look thoughtful, with your hair down." And danced for me again, shyly moving her lissom body to the inaudible rhythms of the paintings. My heart was in my mouth as I watched, her graceful heel and instep echoing the flaxen-haired Florentine beauties of the wall. And then she bowed, and broke into a phrase of Italian I did not know: Mi place molto bailore, "I really love to dance." When she hadfirstcome to Florence she had tried to learn Italianfroma family to which she had an introduction, again arranged by her brother. Now she asked them if she could bring me along and told them proudly that I was a poet. With the deference of older Europeans to any mention of higher art I was received, scraggy and sweating in my single suit, as if I were the real thing, instead of a gaping novice. Red wine flowed, pastasciutta and liquid syllables of Italian that sounded splendid even if I only dimly understood. And when our host began to quote Dante, with all the sonorous intimacy of a Florentine, I responded with Yeats, boom answering boom, like church bells ringing across the city. For the first time I heard those great lines describing the plight of the doomed lovers, Paolo and Francesca, their adulterous eyes meeting over a beloved book: When we read how a lover slaked his drouth upon those long desired lips, then he

66

JOHN MONTAGUE

who never shall be taken from my side all trembling, kissed my ardent mouth. and I countered with: Beloved, may your sleep be sound That have found it where you fed. Our host's wife beamed. Wanda beamed. And when they wouldn't let us leave after lunch but ushered us for the siesta into a small white room with a real bed with laundered linen sheets Wanda was beside herself with:girlish delight. "They must think we're married or engaged or something." And she blushed. And in those cool white sheets we made love with no preconceptions, no inhibitions, sweetly, tenderly, turning to each other with mute cries of delight, nibbling and hugging like children before we started again, our lips still joined by a light skein of kisses. That afternoon was her richest gift to me, a glimpse of bare ecstasy, of the sensuous fulfillment I longed for in my damp, distant island. And like all such moments it had a scent of permanence, a small addition to the sum of sweetness in the world. Finally she fell asleep, her blonde head resting on my numbed arm, in total ease. In the crook of my arm my love's head rests; in each breath I taste her trust.

VI That was our high point, the crest of the wave. But it couldn't last, it seems; we soon plunged down. Already that evening, as we stumbled home, she had begun to turn sour. Between the harmony of the afternoon and the airless heat of her little room, the tininess of the narrow iron bed, was a distance she couldn't, wouldn't cross. When she was in that mood, she had to yield to every caprice, however hurtful. There is a certain kind of character that needs to strike ovt, to wound, and if the victim cares enough to complain, all the worse for them. I fought back at first, but when I found that not only was it useless but it made things much worse, I lapsed into stricken silence. As she did also, except that she could dredge depths of melancholy, of sadness that I had never seen in any one before. As the heat grew daily, we took to going to a suburban swimming popl, to escapefromthe baking claustrophobia of her little studio. The pool was a gaudy, massive imitation of the BERKELEY FICTION REVIEW

67


Roman Baths, the kind of official architecture thatflourishedduring the Mussolini period. Like most young Americans, Wanda Lang could swim like a fish, used to pools and swimming coaches from her infancy. And like most young Irishmen, I had not been properly taught, andflounderednervously at the shallow end, despising my own paler freckled skin. And for most young Italians, the Baths was a theatre to strut, and show off their wares. They wore crotch tight swimming trunks and as they looked at her they stroked themselves, openly. And she seemed to like it, to welcome it; there were very few other women present and she had their full attention. Especially as she wore the first bikini I had ever seen, exposing her acorn brown navel, that cup from which I had newly learnt to drink. When she struck into the water they dipped and dived around her like dolphins. And when she stretched down to cool; they paraded about her like distended fighting cocks; one could nearly smell the sperm. As I climbed gingerly in at the shallow end, to practise the breast stroke, they raced past, showering me with spray. Humiliated, I sat with a towel around my burnt shoulders and tried to contemplate the water, as a kind of exercise. Water in swimming pools changes appearance more than in any other container. The sea always seems to be the same colour but in a pool water is controlled and its rhythms reflect not only the sky but, because of its transparency, the depth of the water as well. If the surface is almost still and there is a strong sun, a dancing line with all the colours of the spectrum will appear anywhere. I tried to to share the intensity of my contemplation with Wanda, appealing to her pictorial sense, but she only grunted, as if I were a boring schoolboy, distracting her from the company of grown-ups. My appeal to our artistic comradeship was in vain. One afternoon I could take no more, and tried to protest to Wanda, where she lay on the edge of the pool, holding her shoulders and breasts to the sun, then untying her bikini halter to turn, like Saint Lawrence on his gridion, her breasts downwards. This move always delighted her audience, especially as she did it slowly, to let them feast their eyes on her body. I could nei. ther stand nor understand it: I had begun to love that body, and that she should let them gape and slaver over it was beyond me. "Shut up, you little puritan," she snapped back at me. "Just because you can't Swim properly you want everyone else to go round hunched up like a cripple. You Irish hate water and sun." I tried to explain to her that, despite their preening and pushing, her pack of admirers were asfrustratedas any Irish provincial. The dark cloud of la mamma, as well as holy Mother Church, hung over the home; she was dealing with, teasing, regaling the most conventional males in Europe, with a double set of values, one for their own women, the other for whores and foreigners. Their only experience of sex, outside of marriage, would be through the brothel and there, money mled, especially

since the dollars of the American army of occupation had ruined the trade. They were full of contempt for foreigners, especially women on whom they would exact revenge for their humiliation in war. If she did let them near her, they would only despise and drop her. I was brilliant, I thought, a week's bile exploding in sermon that surprised even myself. Had the fury of Savonarola, as well as Fra Angelico, infected me after San Marco, where I had returned to visit his tiny cell and contemplate on my own? Certainly there was a stench of burning flesh in my speech, a furious rhetoric which wrapped up both her and them, my disappointment at her desertion, my jealousy of their sun warmed maleness. But most of the information was not mine; I had collected it, unconsciously, from film after film, where the tension between the sexes in Italy inflamed the celluloid. "So you think you know it all," she said angrily, after we came plodding home from the pool, and began to pull off our heat dampened clothes. She was sitting on the bed, half naked, her skirt already shed to the floor, showing her warm gold thatch. "Well, I've been fucking since I was fifteen." Silence. "And when did you start?" She answered herself easily. "You never did, did you? Boy your country must be backward. You hardly even know where the cunt is. Well, take a good look at it now — for the last time." And she lay back, provocatively spreadeagled on the bed, the pretty red shape of her sex, part wound, part flower, held open to me. But when I came forwards to touch her, she jackknifed up, laughing and jeering. "You 're not going to use me for your anatomy lesson, brother. If they didn't teach you anything about sex in your country, don't come crying to me. And don't try to tell me about me: I know. You're ashamed of your body, you can't talk. Before I met you, you didn't even know how to clean your foreskin, a real hillbilly. Christ, I don't know what they did to you in your silly schools, but your prick isn't part of you." She was right, of course; in school we wore shorts in the showers when we came to hose ourselves down after another sweaty, exhausting game of football, which seemed designed to drain us. And yearly we got a lecture on sex from a priest, his face brick red with embarrassment as he tried to explain something that he hardly knew about himself. Our information was garnered furtively, in dirty jokes and stories. Meanwhile the sap rose urgently, blindly in our bodies, adolescents in the charge of celibates, who were more scared than us of that pulsing power, the fermenting energy of sex that could not be denied, or channelled for long. But why did she have to mock me? Was I not more to be pitied than laughed at, to use our local Ulster expression? Between her early excess of knowledge and my ignorance was a gap that only good will could cross, and Wanda did not see why she should take charge of re-

68

BERKELEY FICTION REVIEW

JOHN MONTAGUE

69


Roman Baths, the kind of official architecture thatflourishedduring the Mussolini period. Like most young Americans, Wanda Lang could swim like a fish, used to pools and swimming coaches from her infancy. And like most young Irishmen, I had not been properly taught, andflounderednervously at the shallow end, despising my own paler freckled skin. And for most young Italians, the Baths was a theatre to strut, and show off their wares. They wore crotch tight swimming trunks and as they looked at her they stroked themselves, openly. And she seemed to like it, to welcome it; there were very few other women present and she had their full attention. Especially as she wore the first bikini I had ever seen, exposing her acorn brown navel, that cup from which I had newly learnt to drink. When she struck into the water they dipped and dived around her like dolphins. And when she stretched down to cool; they paraded about her like distended fighting cocks; one could nearly smell the sperm. As I climbed gingerly in at the shallow end, to practise the breast stroke, they raced past, showering me with spray. Humiliated, I sat with a towel around my burnt shoulders and tried to contemplate the water, as a kind of exercise. Water in swimming pools changes appearance more than in any other container. The sea always seems to be the same colour but in a pool water is controlled and its rhythms reflect not only the sky but, because of its transparency, the depth of the water as well. If the surface is almost still and there is a strong sun, a dancing line with all the colours of the spectrum will appear anywhere. I tried to to share the intensity of my contemplation with Wanda, appealing to her pictorial sense, but she only grunted, as if I were a boring schoolboy, distracting her from the company of grown-ups. My appeal to our artistic comradeship was in vain. One afternoon I could take no more, and tried to protest to Wanda, where she lay on the edge of the pool, holding her shoulders and breasts to the sun, then untying her bikini halter to turn, like Saint Lawrence on his gridion, her breasts downwards. This move always delighted her audience, especially as she did it slowly, to let them feast their eyes on her body. I could nei. ther stand nor understand it: I had begun to love that body, and that she should let them gape and slaver over it was beyond me. "Shut up, you little puritan," she snapped back at me. "Just because you can't Swim properly you want everyone else to go round hunched up like a cripple. You Irish hate water and sun." I tried to explain to her that, despite their preening and pushing, her pack of admirers were asfrustratedas any Irish provincial. The dark cloud of la mamma, as well as holy Mother Church, hung over the home; she was dealing with, teasing, regaling the most conventional males in Europe, with a double set of values, one for their own women, the other for whores and foreigners. Their only experience of sex, outside of marriage, would be through the brothel and there, money mled, especially

since the dollars of the American army of occupation had ruined the trade. They were full of contempt for foreigners, especially women on whom they would exact revenge for their humiliation in war. If she did let them near her, they would only despise and drop her. I was brilliant, I thought, a week's bile exploding in sermon that surprised even myself. Had the fury of Savonarola, as well as Fra Angelico, infected me after San Marco, where I had returned to visit his tiny cell and contemplate on my own? Certainly there was a stench of burning flesh in my speech, a furious rhetoric which wrapped up both her and them, my disappointment at her desertion, my jealousy of their sun warmed maleness. But most of the information was not mine; I had collected it, unconsciously, from film after film, where the tension between the sexes in Italy inflamed the celluloid. "So you think you know it all," she said angrily, after we came plodding home from the pool, and began to pull off our heat dampened clothes. She was sitting on the bed, half naked, her skirt already shed to the floor, showing her warm gold thatch. "Well, I've been fucking since I was fifteen." Silence. "And when did you start?" She answered herself easily. "You never did, did you? Boy your country must be backward. You hardly even know where the cunt is. Well, take a good look at it now — for the last time." And she lay back, provocatively spreadeagled on the bed, the pretty red shape of her sex, part wound, part flower, held open to me. But when I came forwards to touch her, she jackknifed up, laughing and jeering. "You 're not going to use me for your anatomy lesson, brother. If they didn't teach you anything about sex in your country, don't come crying to me. And don't try to tell me about me: I know. You're ashamed of your body, you can't talk. Before I met you, you didn't even know how to clean your foreskin, a real hillbilly. Christ, I don't know what they did to you in your silly schools, but your prick isn't part of you." She was right, of course; in school we wore shorts in the showers when we came to hose ourselves down after another sweaty, exhausting game of football, which seemed designed to drain us. And yearly we got a lecture on sex from a priest, his face brick red with embarrassment as he tried to explain something that he hardly knew about himself. Our information was garnered furtively, in dirty jokes and stories. Meanwhile the sap rose urgently, blindly in our bodies, adolescents in the charge of celibates, who were more scared than us of that pulsing power, the fermenting energy of sex that could not be denied, or channelled for long. But why did she have to mock me? Was I not more to be pitied than laughed at, to use our local Ulster expression? Between her early excess of knowledge and my ignorance was a gap that only good will could cross, and Wanda did not see why she should take charge of re-

68

BERKELEY FICTION REVIEW

JOHN MONTAGUE

69


education, any more than I was willing to accept her coarseness. Who had initiated her into sex, leaving her with such a mixture of avidity and terrible loneliness? Meanwhile, we quarrelled, heat, anger, frustration crackling through that narrow room. After each attack, she tried to make it up to me, pleading silently, almost childishly for forgiveness, in little ways that tore my heart. She would bring me a newspaper, for example, or an expensive book from one of the international bookshops. Or a brightly coloured pencil with a rubber on the top; a new fountain pen. But I wouldn't come to the pool again, determined not to be hurt by her, or those grinning young Italian males, shorts bulging like nets after a day's catch. I had had enough machismo to last me for a lifetime; instead I trudged to the cool of the British Institute library, absorbing myself again in books, trying to blot out the images of longing and rage that surged in me. It was another version of my artistic hunger strike and about as successful: a sex starved bookworm, I could not, like the common or garden worm, split in two and have sex with my other half. Suddenly a detail from Berenson's Florentine Painters of the Renaissance would come alive and a slender, delicious young body would stand, not before me, but before a gaping crowd who devoured her with their eyes. Then I fled to poetry, laboriously trying to decipher the message of the Duino Elegies. But then Rilke would betray me, his spiritual search turned sensuous, and I would nearly weep with jealousy and desire, the words fading on the page before me. WTiere could I be safe from thefragrant,furious presence of that wild young woman whom I both adored and loathed? A raw little American bitch who could scarcely read; how had I allowed her to shred me apart like this when, a star student, I already knew so much more about everything than she did? Except sex; the sharp perfume of her young, hot body rose in my nostrils, until like a maddened monk plagued by noon day visions of lewdness, I nearly swooned. I was in love with this terrible young woman, in love maybe with the idea that I had been sent to help her. But how? I struggled for some formula of acceptance. When I wouldn't return to the pool, she organized a trip to the real sea, to Viareggio, perhaps because I said Rilke had once stayed there. Arid how sweetly careful her preparations were! She had a picnic basket, with a whole cooked chicken, a flask of wine, a good cheese and ripe fruit; just like any normal sweetheart, wife or mother, organizing an outing with a loved one. We bathed, and lay under a parasol, and bathed again, running with linked hands into the waves. And as I fell asleep under the parasol, weary with sun and happiness, I saw her go down to dance along the strand, that private intense dance of pleasure which I had not seen for a long time. By the seashore

70

JOHN MONTAGUE

my love dances: the waves press to kiss her feet. Phoebus Apollo, the sun god, the light bringer, has blessed our feast. But before we were bouncing back to Florence again by bus, her mood had already swung back to bitterness. There was a song she kept speaking of, a song of Billy Holliday; a name, like Mondrian, which I had never heard of in Ireland. It was "Gloomy Sunday", and it was what she called blues, based on an old Hungarian tune, adapted by the doomed black singer. It had caused so many deaths, she said, that it was sometimes known as the Hungarian Suicide Song, and it was banned by some radio stations-for its melancholy. If you listened carefully you would realize that it was the lament of someone deep into drugs, for whom life was too*much pain to sustain. And she told me of Lady's life, the heavy drugs, the brutal lovers. At this point the seemingly endless cloud of our quarrels induces a kind of hallucinatory confusion. Did She possess some kind of radio or record player, an early portable phonograph? She certainly crooned the words to herself every evening in the hot darkness, as the^light fadedin the small, high window. I watched as the head I had tried to loveÂťsank lower and lower, drowning in a sadness, a thick, black gloom that resounded through those strange, husky tones/like the dark wax wasps exude: Sunday is gloomy My hours are slumberless Dearest, the shadows I live with are numberless . . . Lulled by the spell of the song, she would topple slowly sideways to the floor, asleep. Above her was the easel she noionger used much; the few halfhearted attempts she had made recently reminded me of a pump or bucket trying to dredge from a long dried well. Something was terribly wrong, and I didn't know what to do about it I was as unequipped as I had been at the pool to sound the depths to which she was sinking to revive and rescue her. In the window daylights fails My love's head BERKELEY FICTION REVIEW

71


education, any more than I was willing to accept her coarseness. Who had initiated her into sex, leaving her with such a mixture of avidity and terrible loneliness? Meanwhile, we quarrelled, heat, anger, frustration crackling through that narrow room. After each attack, she tried to make it up to me, pleading silently, almost childishly for forgiveness, in little ways that tore my heart. She would bring me a newspaper, for example, or an expensive book from one of the international bookshops. Or a brightly coloured pencil with a rubber on the top; a new fountain pen. But I wouldn't come to the pool again, determined not to be hurt by her, or those grinning young Italian males, shorts bulging like nets after a day's catch. I had had enough machismo to last me for a lifetime; instead I trudged to the cool of the British Institute library, absorbing myself again in books, trying to blot out the images of longing and rage that surged in me. It was another version of my artistic hunger strike and about as successful: a sex starved bookworm, I could not, like the common or garden worm, split in two and have sex with my other half. Suddenly a detail from Berenson's Florentine Painters of the Renaissance would come alive and a slender, delicious young body would stand, not before me, but before a gaping crowd who devoured her with their eyes. Then I fled to poetry, laboriously trying to decipher the message of the Duino Elegies. But then Rilke would betray me, his spiritual search turned sensuous, and I would nearly weep with jealousy and desire, the words fading on the page before me. WTiere could I be safe from thefragrant,furious presence of that wild young woman whom I both adored and loathed? A raw little American bitch who could scarcely read; how had I allowed her to shred me apart like this when, a star student, I already knew so much more about everything than she did? Except sex; the sharp perfume of her young, hot body rose in my nostrils, until like a maddened monk plagued by noon day visions of lewdness, I nearly swooned. I was in love with this terrible young woman, in love maybe with the idea that I had been sent to help her. But how? I struggled for some formula of acceptance. When I wouldn't return to the pool, she organized a trip to the real sea, to Viareggio, perhaps because I said Rilke had once stayed there. Arid how sweetly careful her preparations were! She had a picnic basket, with a whole cooked chicken, a flask of wine, a good cheese and ripe fruit; just like any normal sweetheart, wife or mother, organizing an outing with a loved one. We bathed, and lay under a parasol, and bathed again, running with linked hands into the waves. And as I fell asleep under the parasol, weary with sun and happiness, I saw her go down to dance along the strand, that private intense dance of pleasure which I had not seen for a long time. By the seashore

70

JOHN MONTAGUE

my love dances: the waves press to kiss her feet. Phoebus Apollo, the sun god, the light bringer, has blessed our feast. But before we were bouncing back to Florence again by bus, her mood had already swung back to bitterness. There was a song she kept speaking of, a song of Billy Holliday; a name, like Mondrian, which I had never heard of in Ireland. It was "Gloomy Sunday", and it was what she called blues, based on an old Hungarian tune, adapted by the doomed black singer. It had caused so many deaths, she said, that it was sometimes known as the Hungarian Suicide Song, and it was banned by some radio stations-for its melancholy. If you listened carefully you would realize that it was the lament of someone deep into drugs, for whom life was too*much pain to sustain. And she told me of Lady's life, the heavy drugs, the brutal lovers. At this point the seemingly endless cloud of our quarrels induces a kind of hallucinatory confusion. Did She possess some kind of radio or record player, an early portable phonograph? She certainly crooned the words to herself every evening in the hot darkness, as the^light fadedin the small, high window. I watched as the head I had tried to loveÂťsank lower and lower, drowning in a sadness, a thick, black gloom that resounded through those strange, husky tones/like the dark wax wasps exude: Sunday is gloomy My hours are slumberless Dearest, the shadows I live with are numberless . . . Lulled by the spell of the song, she would topple slowly sideways to the floor, asleep. Above her was the easel she noionger used much; the few halfhearted attempts she had made recently reminded me of a pump or bucket trying to dredge from a long dried well. Something was terribly wrong, and I didn't know what to do about it I was as unequipped as I had been at the pool to sound the depths to which she was sinking to revive and rescue her. In the window daylights fails My love's head BERKELEY FICTION REVIEW

71


Also

"What- happened/' I stammered finally, when she slowed down. She did not answer so I waited untilshe sat down again, on the only place she could, on the bed next to me* "What happened?" I tried again. "I ought to know. I-I want to know what they did." She turned her face towards me, blank atfirst,that deliberate blankness I had come to know so well, which baffled and troubled me. Then arisinganger sharpened her features, made her blue eyes blaze. "So you want to know, Mr. Irishman, Mr. James Joyce the Second, the budding poet A little .unwashed priestly prick is more like it. Well, you can hear my confession, you pious little bastard. They wanted to fuck me, .the old farts, but they'd be too afraid, too afraid of heart attacks, too afraid of mama. So they just felt me up-" Dumb, head down, angry at her, sad for her, ashamed of myself, I listened. There was no escape from, no recourse for what I was hearing. "Yeah, they felt me up, good and plenty. One stuck his fingers up, while the other mauled my breasts. Then they changed around, like a ball game. You're shocked, aren't you, little Mr. Know-It-All from Npwheresville? Maybe I even like it better than your fumbling. My nipples hardened, anyway." The anger was subsiding in her voice; that strange sadness again. "The owner spotted that of course, and the bastard stopped. He said I was a bad girl and should be punished." At last I was indignant. "Surely, you didn't let them?" "Did I what? We needed the money, didn't we?" She turned to face me, on the bed. "Yeah, I let them spank me a bit and tickle me with the ruler but the bruises won't show. And now we needn't worry about rent. And look under the pillow; we'll be able to eat out tonight" And so we did, splendidly, under a trellis lit with tiny coloured lanterns. We had melon and prosciutto, bistecca alia fiorentina, and pints of Chianti. As we made our way back she staggered: she had been talking volubly about her family, how her father didn't love her mother any more, and had been fucking around, of her admiration for her brother, "Who is going to be a great painter, you'll see", but was probably bent "But he has the prettiest boy friends," she said. "Lwish he'd pass them on to me. I wouldn't even mind climbing in with them: I love my brother, damn it. I hope he doesn't kill himself." As she cried out the last sentence people turned to look after us in the street. At first she didn't notice, launched into her monologue. "But they don't notice the kid sister. Only the old geezers come sniffing after me* Especially in Europe — you're all so uptight here." And then she saw the shock and amusement of the passersby, who skirted us, and I propped her along; a

falls....

The ochre color of the walls fades, cracks on a grey rock

VII Towards the end of the month her money began to run out. What were we to do?ÂŤHalf-heartedly, I offered to change my last traveller's cheque from Cooks, the one that was supposed to bring me,to Paris. She shook my offer away, partly because she understood my reluctance only too well, and also because, perhaps, she wanted us to maintain our roles. It had to be her money, her flat, if she was to keep the upper hand in our relationship: to 'call the shots,' as she coarsely said. Or: T m not going to raid the poorbox' was another mocking reply, when I tried again. So I waited, using allmy newly won training in restraint. After a day or so sucking oranges, propping her head with her fist in total, sulky silence, her features distorted, she seemed to come to some decision, she told me curtly to 'stick around,' while she went to see the owner of the flat. She came back with her, and another, to my eyes, ancient Italian lizard, whom I had already seen in the Black Market when we went to change dollars. A typical sensale, behind his old-fashioned linen suit. We sat talking for a while in pidgin English and then suddenly I felt as if there was a vacuum in the room. No one bothered to speak, all politeness was dropped as they stared at me, or rather right through me. Thick as root, I still got the message. I went out and wandered the endless streets, raging. Even Florence couldn't please me: the statue of David seemed brazen, brutal, like the smirks of the young Italians on their farting motorcycles and Lambrettas. At least I had a girl and didn't have to go to whores, as they did, or pester foreigners in the streets. Finally I decided, to turn back: why had she driven me out for those repulsive old codgers,-with their triumphant leers, like Rembrandt's Susanna and the Elders? Surely she would not let them touch her young beauty? I felt as protective as Galahad, as wrathful as Savonarola. She was cleaning up the place when I got back. She had borrowed a broom from our surprised neighbor, and was wielding it well, with all our clothes, belongings, tidied into a corner, and the only carpet hanging through the small window. I came in slowly, spotted that my rucksack was still on its peg, and sat on the bed to be out of her way. It had been made, which was not usual, with sheet tucked under the pillow. 72

BERKELEY FICTION REVIEW

JOHN MONTAGUE i

73


Also

"What- happened/' I stammered finally, when she slowed down. She did not answer so I waited untilshe sat down again, on the only place she could, on the bed next to me* "What happened?" I tried again. "I ought to know. I-I want to know what they did." She turned her face towards me, blank atfirst,that deliberate blankness I had come to know so well, which baffled and troubled me. Then arisinganger sharpened her features, made her blue eyes blaze. "So you want to know, Mr. Irishman, Mr. James Joyce the Second, the budding poet A little .unwashed priestly prick is more like it. Well, you can hear my confession, you pious little bastard. They wanted to fuck me, .the old farts, but they'd be too afraid, too afraid of heart attacks, too afraid of mama. So they just felt me up-" Dumb, head down, angry at her, sad for her, ashamed of myself, I listened. There was no escape from, no recourse for what I was hearing. "Yeah, they felt me up, good and plenty. One stuck his fingers up, while the other mauled my breasts. Then they changed around, like a ball game. You're shocked, aren't you, little Mr. Know-It-All from Npwheresville? Maybe I even like it better than your fumbling. My nipples hardened, anyway." The anger was subsiding in her voice; that strange sadness again. "The owner spotted that of course, and the bastard stopped. He said I was a bad girl and should be punished." At last I was indignant. "Surely, you didn't let them?" "Did I what? We needed the money, didn't we?" She turned to face me, on the bed. "Yeah, I let them spank me a bit and tickle me with the ruler but the bruises won't show. And now we needn't worry about rent. And look under the pillow; we'll be able to eat out tonight" And so we did, splendidly, under a trellis lit with tiny coloured lanterns. We had melon and prosciutto, bistecca alia fiorentina, and pints of Chianti. As we made our way back she staggered: she had been talking volubly about her family, how her father didn't love her mother any more, and had been fucking around, of her admiration for her brother, "Who is going to be a great painter, you'll see", but was probably bent "But he has the prettiest boy friends," she said. "Lwish he'd pass them on to me. I wouldn't even mind climbing in with them: I love my brother, damn it. I hope he doesn't kill himself." As she cried out the last sentence people turned to look after us in the street. At first she didn't notice, launched into her monologue. "But they don't notice the kid sister. Only the old geezers come sniffing after me* Especially in Europe — you're all so uptight here." And then she saw the shock and amusement of the passersby, who skirted us, and I propped her along; a

falls....

The ochre color of the walls fades, cracks on a grey rock

VII Towards the end of the month her money began to run out. What were we to do?ÂŤHalf-heartedly, I offered to change my last traveller's cheque from Cooks, the one that was supposed to bring me,to Paris. She shook my offer away, partly because she understood my reluctance only too well, and also because, perhaps, she wanted us to maintain our roles. It had to be her money, her flat, if she was to keep the upper hand in our relationship: to 'call the shots,' as she coarsely said. Or: T m not going to raid the poorbox' was another mocking reply, when I tried again. So I waited, using allmy newly won training in restraint. After a day or so sucking oranges, propping her head with her fist in total, sulky silence, her features distorted, she seemed to come to some decision, she told me curtly to 'stick around,' while she went to see the owner of the flat. She came back with her, and another, to my eyes, ancient Italian lizard, whom I had already seen in the Black Market when we went to change dollars. A typical sensale, behind his old-fashioned linen suit. We sat talking for a while in pidgin English and then suddenly I felt as if there was a vacuum in the room. No one bothered to speak, all politeness was dropped as they stared at me, or rather right through me. Thick as root, I still got the message. I went out and wandered the endless streets, raging. Even Florence couldn't please me: the statue of David seemed brazen, brutal, like the smirks of the young Italians on their farting motorcycles and Lambrettas. At least I had a girl and didn't have to go to whores, as they did, or pester foreigners in the streets. Finally I decided, to turn back: why had she driven me out for those repulsive old codgers,-with their triumphant leers, like Rembrandt's Susanna and the Elders? Surely she would not let them touch her young beauty? I felt as protective as Galahad, as wrathful as Savonarola. She was cleaning up the place when I got back. She had borrowed a broom from our surprised neighbor, and was wielding it well, with all our clothes, belongings, tidied into a corner, and the only carpet hanging through the small window. I came in slowly, spotted that my rucksack was still on its peg, and sat on the bed to be out of her way. It had been made, which was not usual, with sheet tucked under the pillow. 72

BERKELEY FICTION REVIEW

JOHN MONTAGUE i

73


drunken young girl was not a normal sight in Italy. "Fucking Italians," she screamed, turning to them the finger. "WTiy don't you go and get laid at home, you greasy creeps. You fawning fuckers." There were two theatrically dressed carabinieri at the end of the street, and I didn't want them to spot her: I had already some experience of the hatred Italian police could show for visitors who got out of hand: in every hostel there was someone who had a grim story. Besides*, at long last here was a situation I was familiar with: I held her up as straight as I could, I hauled her up the stairs, and when she lurched towards the bed I helped her to undress, the crumpled skirt and stockings she wore for special outings, to get into churches and restaurants, posing briefly as a modest American miss. Slack and vulnerable she lay across the bed, drunken mirth slowly breaking down into something even deeper than her usual sadness. Desperation, perhaps? "They'll be back, of course, the greasy bastards, old meatballs. They know what I am, they know they can do anything with me. For them I'm just a teenybopper with hot pants, a little American whore. And maybe they're right. Anything goes." She began to cry, a shallow stream that made her features ugly, nearly old. "But you don't know who I am. And you never will." And again she crooned:

what had she drawn? As she snored slightly into dawn, eyes and hair matted with tears and sweat, and the air cooled a little, I looked at the last pages. There was a scrawl of bodies, pricks and cunts coarsely entangled, in a blind ritual of defilement. She had given the sequence of squirming bodies a title which I could just make out: SEX IS SHIT.

Sunday is gloomy with shadows I spend it all. My heart and I Have decided to end it all. That night I tried to hold her gently, to console her, but she kept pushing my hands away, as if I were molesting her. "Go away, go away" she cried, from the depths of her offended youth. "Leave my tits alone, they're mine, damn you, they're mine." As she turned and moaned in the hot night, I lay awake beside her. I was at sea, out of my depth completely. I liked what I could understand of her, the* childish eagerness when she saw something beautiful, clapping her hands before a Botticelli, doing her little dance when something! had written pleased her. But her other side frightened me. What she called my awkward body pulsed with need, and yes, I was ashamed of it, as I had been taught to be, in the gloomy corridors of school. 'Take your hands out of your pockets, bOysP rang out the Dean's reprimand. Or in the intimate dark of the confessional: 'Don't defile your body, the temple of the Ghost' But I was anxious tfr get rid of that shame, to be free. Until I was, I couldn't help her, arid I was beginning to be afraid of her games, those emotional snakes and ladders. '' That evening she had taken our Notebook and scrawled furiously in it; what had she drawn? As she snored slightly into dawn, eyes and hair matted 74

JOHN MONTAGUE

This selection was taken from the novel The Last Notebook to be published later this year

BERKELEY FICTION REVIEW

75


drunken young girl was not a normal sight in Italy. "Fucking Italians," she screamed, turning to them the finger. "WTiy don't you go and get laid at home, you greasy creeps. You fawning fuckers." There were two theatrically dressed carabinieri at the end of the street, and I didn't want them to spot her: I had already some experience of the hatred Italian police could show for visitors who got out of hand: in every hostel there was someone who had a grim story. Besides*, at long last here was a situation I was familiar with: I held her up as straight as I could, I hauled her up the stairs, and when she lurched towards the bed I helped her to undress, the crumpled skirt and stockings she wore for special outings, to get into churches and restaurants, posing briefly as a modest American miss. Slack and vulnerable she lay across the bed, drunken mirth slowly breaking down into something even deeper than her usual sadness. Desperation, perhaps? "They'll be back, of course, the greasy bastards, old meatballs. They know what I am, they know they can do anything with me. For them I'm just a teenybopper with hot pants, a little American whore. And maybe they're right. Anything goes." She began to cry, a shallow stream that made her features ugly, nearly old. "But you don't know who I am. And you never will." And again she crooned:

what had she drawn? As she snored slightly into dawn, eyes and hair matted with tears and sweat, and the air cooled a little, I looked at the last pages. There was a scrawl of bodies, pricks and cunts coarsely entangled, in a blind ritual of defilement. She had given the sequence of squirming bodies a title which I could just make out: SEX IS SHIT.

Sunday is gloomy with shadows I spend it all. My heart and I Have decided to end it all. That night I tried to hold her gently, to console her, but she kept pushing my hands away, as if I were molesting her. "Go away, go away" she cried, from the depths of her offended youth. "Leave my tits alone, they're mine, damn you, they're mine." As she turned and moaned in the hot night, I lay awake beside her. I was at sea, out of my depth completely. I liked what I could understand of her, the* childish eagerness when she saw something beautiful, clapping her hands before a Botticelli, doing her little dance when something! had written pleased her. But her other side frightened me. What she called my awkward body pulsed with need, and yes, I was ashamed of it, as I had been taught to be, in the gloomy corridors of school. 'Take your hands out of your pockets, bOysP rang out the Dean's reprimand. Or in the intimate dark of the confessional: 'Don't defile your body, the temple of the Ghost' But I was anxious tfr get rid of that shame, to be free. Until I was, I couldn't help her, arid I was beginning to be afraid of her games, those emotional snakes and ladders. '' That evening she had taken our Notebook and scrawled furiously in it; what had she drawn? As she snored slightly into dawn, eyes and hair matted 74

JOHN MONTAGUE

This selection was taken from the novel The Last Notebook to be published later this year

BERKELEY FICTION REVIEW

75


interview

with

B r e n d a n

K e n n e l l y

G A V I N

&

J A M E S

K O S T I C K

P E N N E R

B

RENDAN KENNELLY is a Dublin-based poet who has published numerous books of poetry since the 1960's. He is the editor of The Penguin Book of Irish Verse and his most recent work Cromwell was adapted for the stage in Dublin. He holds the position of Professor of Modern Poetry at Trinity College, Dublin. You have written some novels and some plays, yet you are primarily regarded as a poet. Are you more comfortable with verse or prose? Brendan Kennelly: I would say my natural instincts take me towards verse . . . if I get an image, or Q phrase, Or even a bit of a phrase, I keep it there and I let it grow in the quietness of my mind. I like [this] process of growth, maturation .-.. whatever you call it. I've always liked working with images rather than [with] ideas. You have said that "Poetry is the art of permanent beginning and the


interview

with

B r e n d a n

K e n n e l l y

G A V I N

&

J A M E S

K O S T I C K

P E N N E R

B

RENDAN KENNELLY is a Dublin-based poet who has published numerous books of poetry since the 1960's. He is the editor of The Penguin Book of Irish Verse and his most recent work Cromwell was adapted for the stage in Dublin. He holds the position of Professor of Modern Poetry at Trinity College, Dublin. You have written some novels and some plays, yet you are primarily regarded as a poet. Are you more comfortable with verse or prose? Brendan Kennelly: I would say my natural instincts take me towards verse . . . if I get an image, or Q phrase, Or even a bit of a phrase, I keep it there and I let it grow in the quietness of my mind. I like [this] process of growth, maturation .-.. whatever you call it. I've always liked working with images rather than [with] ideas. You have said that "Poetry is the art of permanent beginning and the


voice of new promise" does that mean your poetry has a didactic purpose? What do you want your readers to get out of your poetry? BK: At one stage I think my poetry did have a didactic purpose. When you are young and enthusiastic and hot-faced with something to say, you are naturally didactic. Didacticism is very close to enthusiasm. But, I do still hold that poetry is the art of permanent beginning; when a poem is finished it is apart from the writer. All the poetry a poet writes is in himself, but it doesn't belong to him once it is printed. It is out of his hands. I don't believe in copyright. The poem belongs to those who read and they should be allowed to reproduce it as they like. The poet must go on. Will you explain yor view that "the modern poet is often a voice without an audience, an endured oddity and an articulate freak." Has the position of the poet changed? BK: I've always believed a writer needs an audience. I come out of a part of the country [Kerry] where the oral experience of poetry is very strong. I've brought that into my poetry. When I write I like to speak the poem aloud to get the rhythms right and to create the notion that I am sharing it with someone [so] that I am not alone, and the poem is not alone, and that something is being communicated and being shared. To me this is vital for the actual creation of the poem and for die sense that it does not exist in isolation, ignored or forgotten. I have a fairly understandable human terror of things being totally ignored. In fact, a lot of things I write are about people who are ignored, forgotten about or lonely. I am very interested in people [who are] neglected by society. Some years ago, I started a writers-in-prison scheme. I've found [that] in the prisons of Ireland there are a lot of people writing poetry — but they have no audience. To me, there are a few experiences in human life that are truly terrifying: one of them is to meet a person who you know is not being listened to. One of my favorite sentences in all literature is from your Arthur Miller in Death of a Salesman: 'Attention must be paid'. Attention must be paid to the poem, not so much to the poet, but to the poetry of people. I'm not talking about verse, I'm talking about the poetry in ordinary • • • • • • • • • • • ^ • • • • • • • • • • • • • • i personalities, people who have " P o e t r y o p e r a t e s griefs and sorrows and silences that they cannot utter. Yet, if you listen, you can hear them. This is j u s t t h i s s i d e of the area that is most real for me, for poetry operates just this side t h e u n u t t e r a b l e . " of the unutterable. [For those]

78

INTERVIEW WITH BRENDAN KENNELLY

things that cannot be said poetry brings out an utterance, and that utterance should be listened to. The first thing I say a poet should have is a highly developed capacity to listen. Patrick Kavanagh used to say that the worst insult to be inflicted on an Irish poet was to be called an Irish poet. Are thiere certain expectations people have of Irish poets? BK: There are and there always have been. First, let me talk about Kavanagh. Kavanagh wasn't listened to, he found it hard to get an audience. In the end, he had a few people, he even says some where: 'I have my friends', [which] he limits [in number] to about five or six. Yeats said that if there are fifty people in a city who listen that is exceptional. I know a lot of people buy bopks of poetry, but do they listen? Reading is not listening — reading is acquisition — listening is sharing in one's being and sharing in the being of the poem. Secondly, I would agree with Kavanagh. There is an Irishness that is easy and attractive. Particularly abroad, where if you go and put on the Irish accent or do the Irish thing — be flamboyant and colourful — you will be living up to expectations and make things easier for yourself. I think a lot of Irishmen do it — to be honest with you, I've done it myself on many occasions, but that is not what I'm about Poetry is a much more austere and solitary thing, it is much lonelier. I love .a bit of sport, a bit of fun, a bit of acting up, but [that's] not what poetry is about. Can you tell me more about Patrick Kavanagh and why has he been so neglected outside of Ireland?

" R e a d i n g

i s

n o t

l i s t e n i n g — r e a d i n g BK: Kavahagh is a fascinating figure, who is toi s a c q u i s i t i o n -— tally unique in what we call modem poetry. He is totall i s t e n i n g i s s h a r i n g ly individualistic. He had very little formal education i n o n e y s b e i n g a n d and he never went near a University, he had no b e i n g grants from arts councils s h a r i n g i n t h e and lived in a time when of t h e p o e m . . . " there was very little charice of publication. His individBERKELEY FICTION REVIEW

79


voice of new promise" does that mean your poetry has a didactic purpose? What do you want your readers to get out of your poetry? BK: At one stage I think my poetry did have a didactic purpose. When you are young and enthusiastic and hot-faced with something to say, you are naturally didactic. Didacticism is very close to enthusiasm. But, I do still hold that poetry is the art of permanent beginning; when a poem is finished it is apart from the writer. All the poetry a poet writes is in himself, but it doesn't belong to him once it is printed. It is out of his hands. I don't believe in copyright. The poem belongs to those who read and they should be allowed to reproduce it as they like. The poet must go on. Will you explain yor view that "the modern poet is often a voice without an audience, an endured oddity and an articulate freak." Has the position of the poet changed? BK: I've always believed a writer needs an audience. I come out of a part of the country [Kerry] where the oral experience of poetry is very strong. I've brought that into my poetry. When I write I like to speak the poem aloud to get the rhythms right and to create the notion that I am sharing it with someone [so] that I am not alone, and the poem is not alone, and that something is being communicated and being shared. To me this is vital for the actual creation of the poem and for die sense that it does not exist in isolation, ignored or forgotten. I have a fairly understandable human terror of things being totally ignored. In fact, a lot of things I write are about people who are ignored, forgotten about or lonely. I am very interested in people [who are] neglected by society. Some years ago, I started a writers-in-prison scheme. I've found [that] in the prisons of Ireland there are a lot of people writing poetry — but they have no audience. To me, there are a few experiences in human life that are truly terrifying: one of them is to meet a person who you know is not being listened to. One of my favorite sentences in all literature is from your Arthur Miller in Death of a Salesman: 'Attention must be paid'. Attention must be paid to the poem, not so much to the poet, but to the poetry of people. I'm not talking about verse, I'm talking about the poetry in ordinary • • • • • • • • • • • ^ • • • • • • • • • • • • • • i personalities, people who have " P o e t r y o p e r a t e s griefs and sorrows and silences that they cannot utter. Yet, if you listen, you can hear them. This is j u s t t h i s s i d e of the area that is most real for me, for poetry operates just this side t h e u n u t t e r a b l e . " of the unutterable. [For those]

78

INTERVIEW WITH BRENDAN KENNELLY

things that cannot be said poetry brings out an utterance, and that utterance should be listened to. The first thing I say a poet should have is a highly developed capacity to listen. Patrick Kavanagh used to say that the worst insult to be inflicted on an Irish poet was to be called an Irish poet. Are thiere certain expectations people have of Irish poets? BK: There are and there always have been. First, let me talk about Kavanagh. Kavanagh wasn't listened to, he found it hard to get an audience. In the end, he had a few people, he even says some where: 'I have my friends', [which] he limits [in number] to about five or six. Yeats said that if there are fifty people in a city who listen that is exceptional. I know a lot of people buy bopks of poetry, but do they listen? Reading is not listening — reading is acquisition — listening is sharing in one's being and sharing in the being of the poem. Secondly, I would agree with Kavanagh. There is an Irishness that is easy and attractive. Particularly abroad, where if you go and put on the Irish accent or do the Irish thing — be flamboyant and colourful — you will be living up to expectations and make things easier for yourself. I think a lot of Irishmen do it — to be honest with you, I've done it myself on many occasions, but that is not what I'm about Poetry is a much more austere and solitary thing, it is much lonelier. I love .a bit of sport, a bit of fun, a bit of acting up, but [that's] not what poetry is about. Can you tell me more about Patrick Kavanagh and why has he been so neglected outside of Ireland?

" R e a d i n g

i s

n o t

l i s t e n i n g — r e a d i n g BK: Kavahagh is a fascinating figure, who is toi s a c q u i s i t i o n -— tally unique in what we call modem poetry. He is totall i s t e n i n g i s s h a r i n g ly individualistic. He had very little formal education i n o n e y s b e i n g a n d and he never went near a University, he had no b e i n g grants from arts councils s h a r i n g i n t h e and lived in a time when of t h e p o e m . . . " there was very little charice of publication. His individBERKELEY FICTION REVIEW

79


uality was in a kind of wilderness. In that wilderness Kavanagh wrote, and what he wrote has his stamp on it completely. You get, from a lot of poets today a lot of fairly good stuff, it's clever, it's accomplished, but it reminds me of something else. There are a few poets of total individuality: Blake, Kavanagh, Whitman, Dickinson, Ginsberg. Particularly in the second book of Howl, Ginsberg has a voice—I don't like using that term because it's an overused term—but there is in Ginsberg a totally human realization of his own voice; his work almost appears angelic to me.

[This] reminds me of what someone once said to Brendan Behan: 'I)o you understand Samuel Beckett?' and he said: 'No, I don't understand the §ea either, but I love an old swim.' I feel the same, way about Pound's Cantos, I read poetry for the language and for the pleasure.

Do you think Ginsberg is one of the more significant poets of this century?

• BK: I find that question hard to answer because I think you have to write out of your experience. If your experience is Irish, the problem is how is it going to be [made] more universal? The fact that America is larger and more varied than Ireland doesn't make the problem [for Irish poets] any easier. I think a lot of Irish writers are hampered by the historical past; they have to write out of their selves. A lot of Irish writers are saturated [with] religious training and they have to write their way out of that — Joyce wrote his way out, Kavanagh wrote his way out of it The writers who emerge seem to me to be* the writers who write their way through the deepest part of their national psyche and emerge into the purely human complexity of their own individual selves. What is universal is what is most deeply felt and accurately expressed. Whether it is about an apple, a terrorist or a Gash register, it doesn't matter, it is how you say it, [for] the only thing that is really universal is the way you say i t

BK: Oh yes! Both as poet and as spirit. He has an adventurous, open, pioneering style — he's very American and yet he is global. Ginsberg is a bit of a rocket, he is moon-directed and sun-directed, yet he is rooted in earth. And he has great tolerance and mercy in him. He was bom to smash limits that strangle people into dead respectability. And America has a lot of that in it. His genius is such a blend of revolution against these things, then he is goodhearted, he's good-willed. I'm using moral words, I'm aware of that — I don't like using that kind of language, but that is how it comes across to me. A poet who persists in himself and in his art will become a better man, a person and all himself. A lot of people, because of our values and educational systems, stop growing at twenty-five or thirty because they acquire diplomas and degrees and qualifications that guarantee their safe passage through Society and life. The poet is die one who insists on the risks and advantages of [furthering] his own spiritual development. He is going to grow spiritually even if it may hurt during the process. Ginsberg has this. Kavanagh has this. And what about Pound?

Ezra

BK: You can learn fantastic cally from Pound; [he] is a " W h a t i s great teacher. His instincts are i s w h a scholarly, for precision; he has wonderful integrity in his apd e e p l y proach to language. He is the enemy of slosh and gush and a c rhetoric and the advocate of clarity and sharp-edged language. I read his Cantos a lot, e x p r but I don't understand them.

80

u n i v e r s a l t

i s f e l t

m o s t a n d

c u r a t e l y e s s e d . . . "

INTERVIEW WITH BRENDAN KENNELLY

In America, Irish poets have been criticized for not being able to escape their Irishness and for not being able to address more universal themes. Is this criticism justified?

Do you see Ireland as a modern industrial state or as a third-world country? Do you feel yourself closer to a poet of the third-world like Pablo Nieruda? BK: I love reading Neruda, not because he's third-world, but because he has the most sensuous eye since Keats, He is a " . . . N e w Y o r k i s i n s a n e . complete sensualist; that man N e w Y o r k h a s a cannot write about a tomato f a n t a s t i c b e a u t y a b o u t without giving and getting an o f erection, fte is a i t , b u t i t i s t h e b e a u t y splendid writer — he gits that i n s a n i t y . " sensuality from BERKELEY FICTION REVIEW

81


uality was in a kind of wilderness. In that wilderness Kavanagh wrote, and what he wrote has his stamp on it completely. You get, from a lot of poets today a lot of fairly good stuff, it's clever, it's accomplished, but it reminds me of something else. There are a few poets of total individuality: Blake, Kavanagh, Whitman, Dickinson, Ginsberg. Particularly in the second book of Howl, Ginsberg has a voice—I don't like using that term because it's an overused term—but there is in Ginsberg a totally human realization of his own voice; his work almost appears angelic to me.

[This] reminds me of what someone once said to Brendan Behan: 'I)o you understand Samuel Beckett?' and he said: 'No, I don't understand the §ea either, but I love an old swim.' I feel the same, way about Pound's Cantos, I read poetry for the language and for the pleasure.

Do you think Ginsberg is one of the more significant poets of this century?

• BK: I find that question hard to answer because I think you have to write out of your experience. If your experience is Irish, the problem is how is it going to be [made] more universal? The fact that America is larger and more varied than Ireland doesn't make the problem [for Irish poets] any easier. I think a lot of Irish writers are hampered by the historical past; they have to write out of their selves. A lot of Irish writers are saturated [with] religious training and they have to write their way out of that — Joyce wrote his way out, Kavanagh wrote his way out of it The writers who emerge seem to me to be* the writers who write their way through the deepest part of their national psyche and emerge into the purely human complexity of their own individual selves. What is universal is what is most deeply felt and accurately expressed. Whether it is about an apple, a terrorist or a Gash register, it doesn't matter, it is how you say it, [for] the only thing that is really universal is the way you say i t

BK: Oh yes! Both as poet and as spirit. He has an adventurous, open, pioneering style — he's very American and yet he is global. Ginsberg is a bit of a rocket, he is moon-directed and sun-directed, yet he is rooted in earth. And he has great tolerance and mercy in him. He was bom to smash limits that strangle people into dead respectability. And America has a lot of that in it. His genius is such a blend of revolution against these things, then he is goodhearted, he's good-willed. I'm using moral words, I'm aware of that — I don't like using that kind of language, but that is how it comes across to me. A poet who persists in himself and in his art will become a better man, a person and all himself. A lot of people, because of our values and educational systems, stop growing at twenty-five or thirty because they acquire diplomas and degrees and qualifications that guarantee their safe passage through Society and life. The poet is die one who insists on the risks and advantages of [furthering] his own spiritual development. He is going to grow spiritually even if it may hurt during the process. Ginsberg has this. Kavanagh has this. And what about Pound?

Ezra

BK: You can learn fantastic cally from Pound; [he] is a " W h a t i s great teacher. His instincts are i s w h a scholarly, for precision; he has wonderful integrity in his apd e e p l y proach to language. He is the enemy of slosh and gush and a c rhetoric and the advocate of clarity and sharp-edged language. I read his Cantos a lot, e x p r but I don't understand them.

80

u n i v e r s a l t

i s f e l t

m o s t a n d

c u r a t e l y e s s e d . . . "

INTERVIEW WITH BRENDAN KENNELLY

In America, Irish poets have been criticized for not being able to escape their Irishness and for not being able to address more universal themes. Is this criticism justified?

Do you see Ireland as a modern industrial state or as a third-world country? Do you feel yourself closer to a poet of the third-world like Pablo Nieruda? BK: I love reading Neruda, not because he's third-world, but because he has the most sensuous eye since Keats, He is a " . . . N e w Y o r k i s i n s a n e . complete sensualist; that man N e w Y o r k h a s a cannot write about a tomato f a n t a s t i c b e a u t y a b o u t without giving and getting an o f erection, fte is a i t , b u t i t i s t h e b e a u t y splendid writer — he gits that i n s a n i t y . " sensuality from BERKELEY FICTION REVIEW

81


his geographical environment,.. yes, I'd identify with Neruda there. I think there is still a slowness in Irish life, particularly outside of the cities ami [particularly] outside of Dublin, that I associate with sensuousness; [the] taking time off to smell and taste and touch, words, objects, food. A lot of the totally modem situation — the speed, the haste — that you meet in New York [for instance] is insane. New York has a fantastic beauty about it, but it is the beauty of insanity, it is a place where you don't sit down to think very much You just go along having endless sensations — fun, pleasure, thrills and some risks and dangers — all pouring out at an incredible rate. My temperament draws me more towards a society where people savour and know what they are savouring, where people remember and know what they are remembering; a society that provides the material for poetry. Do you see American influences on Irish culture as positive or negative? BK: The most popular and powerful and insidiously pervasive influence . on the multitude [in Ireland] is American television: detective series and soap operas are really watched by the Irish. I think it is unfortunate — that stuff is crap. It is negative, cynical, futile and apparently very necessary for the sluggish lives that fill our suburban homes today. Televison is the drug; it has the effect of a narcotic. At this popular level, American culture has a bad influence. However, at the poetic level, the influence of American poets is far reaching and beneficial to most of the poets who write here. Also important is the influence of American dramatists like, Arthur Miller, Tennessee Williams, Eugene O'Neal and Edward Albee (to a lesser extent). The reality of America: the vast democracy with its whole i i T h e r e a l i t y of A m e r i c a : industry geared towards the satw i t h isfaction and t h e v a s t d e m o c r a c y perpetration of 1 g e a r e d mediocrity is^i t s w h o l e i n d u s t r y negative. And you 6ah*t pert o w a r d s t h e s a t i s f a c t i o n petrate mediocrity without a n d p e r p e t r a t i o n of being a cynic — this side of m e d i o c r i t y i s n e g a t i v e . " American cul-

82

INTERVIEW WITH BRENDAN KENNELLY

tore has a great influence on Irish lives today and I deplore it.

What poets do you read? And what poets have influenced you the most? BK: The things that have influenced me the most are mythologies, legends, stories, and above all and increasingly [so]: ordinary conversation. I like to hear the poetry in the normal pitter-patter of people; I have to train myself to listen. I don't believe poetry is an isolated thing, I think it is there if we have the eyes to see it and the ears to hear it So I listen to people's talk. I [have] also read the mythologies of the world: American Indian mythology, Greek mythology, and Medieval Romance. I like legends because they are distant and wonderfully imaginative. They are coherent and they offer a world; they are not petty andfragmented.I also like French poetry: Baudelaire and Rimbaud. And I like the Gaelic poetry of O'Sullivan and O'Reilly. I like the popular songs and ballads and I love to hear people singing; all the literature and the ballads and the conversation that is rooted in people's feelings. Do you read literary criticism at all? BK: I like criticism that has to do with words, not ideas. I'm not a very organized critic myself, though I like to put my thoughts down on paper. I find that with most criticism [that] it's okay, it's well-organized, it's wellexpressed, but then you stumble across a wonderful insight, and that is not unlike the experience of reading poetry. Most everything in life is pretty alright — it's passable — there are very few great moments in anything, whether it be poetry, criticism, love, or eating.

BERKELEY FICTION REVIEW

83


his geographical environment,.. yes, I'd identify with Neruda there. I think there is still a slowness in Irish life, particularly outside of the cities ami [particularly] outside of Dublin, that I associate with sensuousness; [the] taking time off to smell and taste and touch, words, objects, food. A lot of the totally modem situation — the speed, the haste — that you meet in New York [for instance] is insane. New York has a fantastic beauty about it, but it is the beauty of insanity, it is a place where you don't sit down to think very much You just go along having endless sensations — fun, pleasure, thrills and some risks and dangers — all pouring out at an incredible rate. My temperament draws me more towards a society where people savour and know what they are savouring, where people remember and know what they are remembering; a society that provides the material for poetry. Do you see American influences on Irish culture as positive or negative? BK: The most popular and powerful and insidiously pervasive influence . on the multitude [in Ireland] is American television: detective series and soap operas are really watched by the Irish. I think it is unfortunate — that stuff is crap. It is negative, cynical, futile and apparently very necessary for the sluggish lives that fill our suburban homes today. Televison is the drug; it has the effect of a narcotic. At this popular level, American culture has a bad influence. However, at the poetic level, the influence of American poets is far reaching and beneficial to most of the poets who write here. Also important is the influence of American dramatists like, Arthur Miller, Tennessee Williams, Eugene O'Neal and Edward Albee (to a lesser extent). The reality of America: the vast democracy with its whole i i T h e r e a l i t y of A m e r i c a : industry geared towards the satw i t h isfaction and t h e v a s t d e m o c r a c y perpetration of 1 g e a r e d mediocrity is^i t s w h o l e i n d u s t r y negative. And you 6ah*t pert o w a r d s t h e s a t i s f a c t i o n petrate mediocrity without a n d p e r p e t r a t i o n of being a cynic — this side of m e d i o c r i t y i s n e g a t i v e . " American cul-

82

INTERVIEW WITH BRENDAN KENNELLY

tore has a great influence on Irish lives today and I deplore it.

What poets do you read? And what poets have influenced you the most? BK: The things that have influenced me the most are mythologies, legends, stories, and above all and increasingly [so]: ordinary conversation. I like to hear the poetry in the normal pitter-patter of people; I have to train myself to listen. I don't believe poetry is an isolated thing, I think it is there if we have the eyes to see it and the ears to hear it So I listen to people's talk. I [have] also read the mythologies of the world: American Indian mythology, Greek mythology, and Medieval Romance. I like legends because they are distant and wonderfully imaginative. They are coherent and they offer a world; they are not petty andfragmented.I also like French poetry: Baudelaire and Rimbaud. And I like the Gaelic poetry of O'Sullivan and O'Reilly. I like the popular songs and ballads and I love to hear people singing; all the literature and the ballads and the conversation that is rooted in people's feelings. Do you read literary criticism at all? BK: I like criticism that has to do with words, not ideas. I'm not a very organized critic myself, though I like to put my thoughts down on paper. I find that with most criticism [that] it's okay, it's well-organized, it's wellexpressed, but then you stumble across a wonderful insight, and that is not unlike the experience of reading poetry. Most everything in life is pretty alright — it's passable — there are very few great moments in anything, whether it be poetry, criticism, love, or eating.

BERKELEY FICTION REVIEW

83


A i s l i n g

S E A M U S

T he first dream had the temper of anger. Drumhead executions in rainy outposts, Fecula of blood on clothes and hair, Thrombosis of rivers flashing danger In low fields, enemy ships on the coast, A wickerwork of conspiracy laid bare. It happened over and over. No graceful lady Came whispering out of starlight, Nor did the verdigris of old sorrows Dull the gUtter of migrating courts Of gold and honour bright. Nor were there promises of tomorrows. For the second dream, for the hundreth time, I have to wait and wait. The flowers come on cue, The newspapers bear a date, the valleys hum With traffic. Some still expect a sign, Some rethink the crisis through, All quiver within the membrane of a drum.

D E A N E


A i s l i n g

S E A M U S

T he first dream had the temper of anger. Drumhead executions in rainy outposts, Fecula of blood on clothes and hair, Thrombosis of rivers flashing danger In low fields, enemy ships on the coast, A wickerwork of conspiracy laid bare. It happened over and over. No graceful lady Came whispering out of starlight, Nor did the verdigris of old sorrows Dull the gUtter of migrating courts Of gold and honour bright. Nor were there promises of tomorrows. For the second dream, for the hundreth time, I have to wait and wait. The flowers come on cue, The newspapers bear a date, the valleys hum With traffic. Some still expect a sign, Some rethink the crisis through, All quiver within the membrane of a drum.

D E A N E


R e a d i n g

P a r a d i s e

P r o t e s t a n t

U l s t e r ,

S E A M U S

s hould I give in to sleep? This fire's warm, I know the story off by heart, Was up so late last night and all the harm That can be done is done. Far apart From Milton's devils is the present crew Of zombie soldiers and their spies, Supergrasses in whose hiss We hear the snake and sense the mist Rise in dreams that crowd the new Awaking with their demobbed cries.

L o s t

I n

1 9 8 7

D E A N E I

Awake again, I see the window take An arc of rainbow and a fusing rain. None should break the union of this State WTiich God with Man conspired to ordain. But the woe the long evening brings To the mazy ambushes of streets Marks us more deeply now than that bower Of Eden in our first-parental hour Of sexual bliss and frail enamourings Could ever do. Our 'sovran Planter' beats Upon his breast, dyadic evil rules; A syncope that stammers in our guns, That forms and then reforms itself in schools And in our daughters' couplings and our sons'! We feel the fire's heat, Belial's doze. A maiden city's burning on the plain; Rebels surround us, Lord. Ah, whence arose This dark damnation, this hot unrainbowed rain?

In the old ground of apocalypse I saw a broken church near where Two lines of trees came to eclipse The summer light. Beside the stair A grey crow from an old estate Gripped on the book of Common Prayer, A rope of mice hung on a strip Of altar cloth and a blurring date Smeared the stone beneath the choir.

87

SEAMUS DEANE


R e a d i n g

P a r a d i s e

P r o t e s t a n t

U l s t e r ,

S E A M U S

s hould I give in to sleep? This fire's warm, I know the story off by heart, Was up so late last night and all the harm That can be done is done. Far apart From Milton's devils is the present crew Of zombie soldiers and their spies, Supergrasses in whose hiss We hear the snake and sense the mist Rise in dreams that crowd the new Awaking with their demobbed cries.

L o s t

I n

1 9 8 7

D E A N E I

Awake again, I see the window take An arc of rainbow and a fusing rain. None should break the union of this State WTiich God with Man conspired to ordain. But the woe the long evening brings To the mazy ambushes of streets Marks us more deeply now than that bower Of Eden in our first-parental hour Of sexual bliss and frail enamourings Could ever do. Our 'sovran Planter' beats Upon his breast, dyadic evil rules; A syncope that stammers in our guns, That forms and then reforms itself in schools And in our daughters' couplings and our sons'! We feel the fire's heat, Belial's doze. A maiden city's burning on the plain; Rebels surround us, Lord. Ah, whence arose This dark damnation, this hot unrainbowed rain?

In the old ground of apocalypse I saw a broken church near where Two lines of trees came to eclipse The summer light. Beside the stair A grey crow from an old estate Gripped on the book of Common Prayer, A rope of mice hung on a strip Of altar cloth and a blurring date Smeared the stone beneath the choir.

87

SEAMUS DEANE


interview

with

N e i l

J A M E S

I

J o r d a n

P E N N E R

RELAND'S youngest and most accomplished filmmaker, Neil Jordan lives in an old Victorian house on the seafront of Dublin Bay, alongside the house where James Joyce spent his earliest years. Neil Jordan is known for his cinematic achievements, he has written and directedfour films: Arigel (1982), Company of Wolves (1984) and last year's hitMona Lisa, and an us yet unnamed film soon to be released. He was born in 1950, in County Sligo] and he attended Belgrove Primary (where one of his teachers was the Irish novelist John McGahern). At University College, Dublin he read English and History and after failing to be accepted into film school he began a brief unhappy teaching career at a secondary school. It was during this period that Jordan earnestly began to write fiction. His first work, an experimental collection of short stories, Night in Tunisia, won the Guardian Award for Fiction in 1979. The book was widely recognized asa major breakthrough in Irish fiction because the stories were entirely disconnected from the Irish landscape, a theme sdfamiliar in the Works of major Irish short story writers like Joyce, O'Connor andLavin.


interview

with

N e i l

J A M E S

I

J o r d a n

P E N N E R

RELAND'S youngest and most accomplished filmmaker, Neil Jordan lives in an old Victorian house on the seafront of Dublin Bay, alongside the house where James Joyce spent his earliest years. Neil Jordan is known for his cinematic achievements, he has written and directedfour films: Arigel (1982), Company of Wolves (1984) and last year's hitMona Lisa, and an us yet unnamed film soon to be released. He was born in 1950, in County Sligo] and he attended Belgrove Primary (where one of his teachers was the Irish novelist John McGahern). At University College, Dublin he read English and History and after failing to be accepted into film school he began a brief unhappy teaching career at a secondary school. It was during this period that Jordan earnestly began to write fiction. His first work, an experimental collection of short stories, Night in Tunisia, won the Guardian Award for Fiction in 1979. The book was widely recognized asa major breakthrough in Irish fiction because the stories were entirely disconnected from the Irish landscape, a theme sdfamiliar in the Works of major Irish short story writers like Joyce, O'Connor andLavin.


"In Night in Tunisia, there was a strong reaction in me against the the anecdotal nature of Irishfiction,particularly in the short story genre. I'm talking about the fiction of the New Irish State [after 1920] which I grew up with. My short stories don't tell little anecdotes — they were a reaction against the homeliness of that particular short story form." After the success of Night in Tunisia, Jordon published two experimental novels: The Past and The Dream of a Beast.

\h \:

H

"The two novels I wrote were very uncomfortable ones, I was always uncomfortable with something in the form of the novel. At that time I was very influenced by writers like Marguerite Duras, whose novels were a precise analysis of what the novel [form] was doing — [her work was an] attempt to breakdown the novel form and [to disclose] what the actual presumptions of fiction were. I became so obsessed with this, to the point where the act of writing became self-defeating... I was trying to tear the novel form to pieces and consciously turn it into something else — on one hand something more poetic and on the other hand something more tactile. I was happy with what I achieved, but when you set out to do something destructive and iconoclastic, [the novel itself] is not really the achievement... there was a lot of theoretical reasoning behind my fiction." Neil Jordan is one of the few Irish writers who has been able to address subject matter beyond Ireland. "Irish writers of yesterday and today feel very comfortable with the language of Ireland — they have a tremen- ^ _ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ dous faith in the ability of language to el- U I n f i l m m a k i n g o n e i s evate experience into something more siga b l e t o s p e a k w i t h nificant — no matter how fucked up and i n s t i n c t , e m o t i o n a n d chaotic the country is — the language d i r e c t n e s s of t h o u g h t sanctifies you. However, this thing, the p o s s i b l e elevation of experi- t h a t i s j u s t n o t ence to some aestheti n t h e n o v e l f o r m . " ic plane by the use of some simile or myth-

90

INTERVIEW WITH NEE. JORDAN

mythic metaphor, is something I've come to mistrust I think there is tremendous comfort in it [for writers] because it justifies the mess you live in. In most Irish writing there are a lot of obscure anachronisms that nobody understands, [furthermore] every Irish poet is obsessed with his own piece of turf — placenames, familiar things and the tapestry of literature. I myself find [this style of Irish literature] hard to understand, I prefer to see writing that is more direct, without any barrier whatsoever/' Now in making films, J or dan found the directness of expression he was searching for in his earlier experimental fiction. With the camera he could do so many things that weren't possible in the existing form of the Irish novel. "[In the act of reading a story] one would try to impose too much on the actual sequence between the events — the mythological and allegorical framework that most Irish literature operates in. MyfirstfilmAngel was written just as a series of bare facts Strang together, which could or could hot have a broader relevance. The initial impact of my [filmic] creation was the bareness. In filmmaking one is able to speak with instinct, emotion and directness of thought that is just not possible in the novel form — filmmaking is not a reflective medium like the novel, it deals with something entirely different As an Irish fiction writer frustrated by the traditional modes of storytelling, [filmmaking] was actually exactly What I was looking for% I also think I preferfilmmakingbecause I think I'm better at it, Ifindit exciting and satisfying. [In filmmaking] one is dealing with language, speech, characters, and also with visual imagery and sounds. Myfilmmakinggrew out of the type of Writing that I was interested in, primarily the French Nouveau Roman school (what we would call experimental fiction) [of] Samuel Beckett and John Berger." Charlie Parker and the writers of hard-boiled American detective fiction, Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett, who explore the niean streets of the American Underworld, have also influenced the work of Neil Jordan, "The kind of language they [Chandler and Hammett] users totally fresh — it is a complete break with what we would call literature — [it is a] new way of using language and recording experience. Chandler is a great literary stylist iri his own strange way, he has created the modes that he himself operates in. Hammett has always been a great primitive force to me, he reminds me of Jacobean drama with all his elementary violence and bloodshed. However* the American writer who has influenced me the most is William FaulBERKELEY FICTION REVIEW

91


"In Night in Tunisia, there was a strong reaction in me against the the anecdotal nature of Irishfiction,particularly in the short story genre. I'm talking about the fiction of the New Irish State [after 1920] which I grew up with. My short stories don't tell little anecdotes — they were a reaction against the homeliness of that particular short story form." After the success of Night in Tunisia, Jordon published two experimental novels: The Past and The Dream of a Beast.

\h \:

H

"The two novels I wrote were very uncomfortable ones, I was always uncomfortable with something in the form of the novel. At that time I was very influenced by writers like Marguerite Duras, whose novels were a precise analysis of what the novel [form] was doing — [her work was an] attempt to breakdown the novel form and [to disclose] what the actual presumptions of fiction were. I became so obsessed with this, to the point where the act of writing became self-defeating... I was trying to tear the novel form to pieces and consciously turn it into something else — on one hand something more poetic and on the other hand something more tactile. I was happy with what I achieved, but when you set out to do something destructive and iconoclastic, [the novel itself] is not really the achievement... there was a lot of theoretical reasoning behind my fiction." Neil Jordan is one of the few Irish writers who has been able to address subject matter beyond Ireland. "Irish writers of yesterday and today feel very comfortable with the language of Ireland — they have a tremen- ^ _ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ dous faith in the ability of language to el- U I n f i l m m a k i n g o n e i s evate experience into something more siga b l e t o s p e a k w i t h nificant — no matter how fucked up and i n s t i n c t , e m o t i o n a n d chaotic the country is — the language d i r e c t n e s s of t h o u g h t sanctifies you. However, this thing, the p o s s i b l e elevation of experi- t h a t i s j u s t n o t ence to some aestheti n t h e n o v e l f o r m . " ic plane by the use of some simile or myth-

90

INTERVIEW WITH NEE. JORDAN

mythic metaphor, is something I've come to mistrust I think there is tremendous comfort in it [for writers] because it justifies the mess you live in. In most Irish writing there are a lot of obscure anachronisms that nobody understands, [furthermore] every Irish poet is obsessed with his own piece of turf — placenames, familiar things and the tapestry of literature. I myself find [this style of Irish literature] hard to understand, I prefer to see writing that is more direct, without any barrier whatsoever/' Now in making films, J or dan found the directness of expression he was searching for in his earlier experimental fiction. With the camera he could do so many things that weren't possible in the existing form of the Irish novel. "[In the act of reading a story] one would try to impose too much on the actual sequence between the events — the mythological and allegorical framework that most Irish literature operates in. MyfirstfilmAngel was written just as a series of bare facts Strang together, which could or could hot have a broader relevance. The initial impact of my [filmic] creation was the bareness. In filmmaking one is able to speak with instinct, emotion and directness of thought that is just not possible in the novel form — filmmaking is not a reflective medium like the novel, it deals with something entirely different As an Irish fiction writer frustrated by the traditional modes of storytelling, [filmmaking] was actually exactly What I was looking for% I also think I preferfilmmakingbecause I think I'm better at it, Ifindit exciting and satisfying. [In filmmaking] one is dealing with language, speech, characters, and also with visual imagery and sounds. Myfilmmakinggrew out of the type of Writing that I was interested in, primarily the French Nouveau Roman school (what we would call experimental fiction) [of] Samuel Beckett and John Berger." Charlie Parker and the writers of hard-boiled American detective fiction, Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett, who explore the niean streets of the American Underworld, have also influenced the work of Neil Jordan, "The kind of language they [Chandler and Hammett] users totally fresh — it is a complete break with what we would call literature — [it is a] new way of using language and recording experience. Chandler is a great literary stylist iri his own strange way, he has created the modes that he himself operates in. Hammett has always been a great primitive force to me, he reminds me of Jacobean drama with all his elementary violence and bloodshed. However* the American writer who has influenced me the most is William FaulBERKELEY FICTION REVIEW

91


kner — I've read him obsessively. I understand his instincts and his mode of operation . . . I understand his ability to create a cosmic frame of reference out of a tiny area in Mississippi, even though I've never been to the American South." However, Neil Jordan did travel to America with various theatre companies in the seventies visiting New York, Chicago and Los Angeles.

IF

"I liked the total unpredictability of the country, in regards to American fiction I like its eriergy and its rawness. I like the way a practising novelist is like a public figure. There is a cross-fertilization process at work in America that doesn't exist in England. English literature is still a class activity and a class pursuit. The whole tone of English literature is [one] of reticence. That is why I welcome the free spirit and energy of American fiction. Also in American filmmaking, there is a certain quality about it that I love, it's a thing which I can't really define, [and] it's precisely that thing that makes it not European." MonaLisa: "Mona Lisa began one Sunday afternoon lunch when a few friends of mine and I " W h a t I l i k e a b o u t were ruminating over the casting of my last w h a t i s h a p p e n i n g film, Company of Wolves. An article in t o d a y i n B r i t a i n a n d one of the Sundays got us dreaming about an A m e r i c a i s t h a t y o u ex-convict on a GBH charge who claimed in t h e s e his defense to be. pro-- c a n ' t p u t a n y of tecting 'ladies of the n e w a n d y o u n g night' against their Maltese pimps. Dope, prostitution, [and] race: f i l m m a k e r s i n t o a Britain today. Small time pimps and petty c a t e g o r y o r a thieves. In one breath it was a British Taxim o v e m e n t . " driver or an update of i

92

INTERVIEW WITH NEIL JORDAN

Casablanca or The Big Heat. Even as a kind of opera with singing bits like Carmen or Rigoletto, with passion and the lust for passion thwarted by an alltoo-concrete world outside. The attraction of it would be a love story, a contemporary moral tale with two characters so far apart, but so inherently likeable that an audience might empathize and understand each point of view and feel their misplaced passion, yet know from the start how hopeless [their relationship] was. "We wanted the central character, George, to be the emblem, the ordinary contemporary hero, thejnug who is lost in a maze of guile, the big heat with a slow brain, the one with child's eyes, who believes too much. I met Bob Hoskins and could see the whole character then and there. Bob is such an English hero and the film was taken as an expression of what [the English] are. Bob is someone who all kinds of people could identify with." Mona Lisa was set in London, and was primarily an English film, however in the future Neil Jordan hopes to make more films that deal with Irish concerns. "There is a very strong need in me to make films about Ireland, but I don't have thefreedomto make anything I want to. There is a film I've been trying to make for a long time about die Irish Revolution and the character of Michael Collins, but people don't like the script because its so controversial." Neil Jordan's current film, was shot in Ireland. "It is a surreal comedy with about sixteen stories going on at once. I've never made a comedy and I'm sure it will be very challenging. The film will include a bunch of American tourists, some Irish people and a cast of ghosts. Jt won't be a mainstream film, it will be a very personal and particular film, a bit like Company of Wolves. A whole series of overlapping stories in the manner of a pseudo-farce, like A Mid-Summer Night's Dream." Neil Jordan admires much of current filmmaking, naming David Lynch's Blue Velvet and Jim Jarmusch's Down by Law as well as the films of Alex Cox. "There is very little in common between Jim Jarmunsch and Alex Cox in terms of filmmaking. What I like about what is happening today in Britain and America is that you can't put any of these new and young .filmmakers into a category or a movement."

BERKELEY FICTION REVIEW

93


kner — I've read him obsessively. I understand his instincts and his mode of operation . . . I understand his ability to create a cosmic frame of reference out of a tiny area in Mississippi, even though I've never been to the American South." However, Neil Jordan did travel to America with various theatre companies in the seventies visiting New York, Chicago and Los Angeles.

IF

"I liked the total unpredictability of the country, in regards to American fiction I like its eriergy and its rawness. I like the way a practising novelist is like a public figure. There is a cross-fertilization process at work in America that doesn't exist in England. English literature is still a class activity and a class pursuit. The whole tone of English literature is [one] of reticence. That is why I welcome the free spirit and energy of American fiction. Also in American filmmaking, there is a certain quality about it that I love, it's a thing which I can't really define, [and] it's precisely that thing that makes it not European." MonaLisa: "Mona Lisa began one Sunday afternoon lunch when a few friends of mine and I " W h a t I l i k e a b o u t were ruminating over the casting of my last w h a t i s h a p p e n i n g film, Company of Wolves. An article in t o d a y i n B r i t a i n a n d one of the Sundays got us dreaming about an A m e r i c a i s t h a t y o u ex-convict on a GBH charge who claimed in t h e s e his defense to be. pro-- c a n ' t p u t a n y of tecting 'ladies of the n e w a n d y o u n g night' against their Maltese pimps. Dope, prostitution, [and] race: f i l m m a k e r s i n t o a Britain today. Small time pimps and petty c a t e g o r y o r a thieves. In one breath it was a British Taxim o v e m e n t . " driver or an update of i

92

INTERVIEW WITH NEIL JORDAN

Casablanca or The Big Heat. Even as a kind of opera with singing bits like Carmen or Rigoletto, with passion and the lust for passion thwarted by an alltoo-concrete world outside. The attraction of it would be a love story, a contemporary moral tale with two characters so far apart, but so inherently likeable that an audience might empathize and understand each point of view and feel their misplaced passion, yet know from the start how hopeless [their relationship] was. "We wanted the central character, George, to be the emblem, the ordinary contemporary hero, thejnug who is lost in a maze of guile, the big heat with a slow brain, the one with child's eyes, who believes too much. I met Bob Hoskins and could see the whole character then and there. Bob is such an English hero and the film was taken as an expression of what [the English] are. Bob is someone who all kinds of people could identify with." Mona Lisa was set in London, and was primarily an English film, however in the future Neil Jordan hopes to make more films that deal with Irish concerns. "There is a very strong need in me to make films about Ireland, but I don't have thefreedomto make anything I want to. There is a film I've been trying to make for a long time about die Irish Revolution and the character of Michael Collins, but people don't like the script because its so controversial." Neil Jordan's current film, was shot in Ireland. "It is a surreal comedy with about sixteen stories going on at once. I've never made a comedy and I'm sure it will be very challenging. The film will include a bunch of American tourists, some Irish people and a cast of ghosts. Jt won't be a mainstream film, it will be a very personal and particular film, a bit like Company of Wolves. A whole series of overlapping stories in the manner of a pseudo-farce, like A Mid-Summer Night's Dream." Neil Jordan admires much of current filmmaking, naming David Lynch's Blue Velvet and Jim Jarmusch's Down by Law as well as the films of Alex Cox. "There is very little in common between Jim Jarmunsch and Alex Cox in terms of filmmaking. What I like about what is happening today in Britain and America is that you can't put any of these new and young .filmmakers into a category or a movement."

BERKELEY FICTION REVIEW

93


W o r k

i n

N E I L

H

P r o g r e s s

J O R D A N

ow long was it since I had walked between morning and night? The city seemed to curl under the sun like a scalded leech. The shadows were tall and black, the pavements white and empty. I crossed Westmoreland Street alone, the only movement was the rustling in the patches under the walls. Is the world to be left to me, I wondered, and such as me? A statue of scalding bronze pointed nowhere, his finger warped by the years of sunshine. I walked through the sleeping city, blinded by the glare, meeting no-one. I came to the river which had narrowed to a trickle in its caked bed. I walked beside it up by Parkgate Street. The Wellington Monument jabbed towards the white haze. I passed through the parched Hollow towards that long avenue, whose perspectives seemed to beckon towards splendors unseen. I saw then, after some time, a shape coming towards me, out of the melting tarmac. I heard the clip-clop of hooves and readied myself to spring into the bushes, in case I met horse and rider. But no, it was a deer who walked down towards me and stopped some feet away, as I did, to stare. I noted the grace of his rectangular jaw, the dapples that led from it to his sprouting homs. Do you

see things differentiy than me, I felt like asking, are your perspectives wider than mine, have you two planes of vision to carry everywhere you go? Whether I thought this or phrased it, he seemed to hear, for his lower jaw moved at odds with his .upper and he bounded past me, in two neat, languorous leaps, as if inviting me to imitate him. I merely watched him,, though, disappear into the city haze. As I walked on, the shape in front of me defined itself. I could see a glittering white facade with two proud pillars and the whorling fingers of a wrought-iron gate between. Walking further, more pillars defined themselves, white ones, stretching in pleasing harmonies from the facade of the house. It slowly dawned on me that it was the presidential palace. Then the memories came. They flooded on me. Like the dreams, the avenue was full of them. I leaned against a slim tall tree, with no foliage at alLexcept for an umbrella at the top. I saw my mother, walking towards it. She was wearing a narrow pleated jacket, with a flowered skirt. She was walking down it, holding my hand. I was pulling her towards the hedges beyond. She wished to view the palace from behind the gates, but I wanted to see. What was it I wanted to see? The Zoo, I realized. And I stepped out from under my tree-trunk, remembering. Enclosed by those hedges, I remembered, the animals would leap at that tall barbed wire, lining the path to the presidential palace. I crossed the avenue and walked along the hedge. I heard a few mournful snarls, as if one of the creatures had awoken for the first time in years. I came to a turnstile and walked through. The Swiss-style cottage was still there, but now it gave out no afternoon teas. The wires were everywhere covered in ivy, the bars were twined in eglantine, honeysuckle and in thick trembling vines that lined the roofs of the cages. I walked through the empty zoo and heard a few parakeets squawk, I saw the flash of a pink flamingo rising from a pool, I saw a treetop swarming with small green monkeys, but all the great animals seemed vanished. I felt a sudden wash of disappointment apd realized then that I had come here to find my beast's prototype. He was no cousin of those chattering monkeys or those squawking birds. I came to a pool then and saw a ripple break the covering of thick green slime. A seal's shape curled out of it, its back speckled, even coated in this weight of green. His glistening, troubled eyes made me feel more akin to him. Then he dived and left the surface unbroken onGe more. I was walking through the tunnel of vines„when I heard the footsteps. I had leapt behind the thickest of vines, before I even thought of my reaction. I looked down at my body and became slowly indignant Have I not the same rights as they (whoever they are), I thought? If my appearance causes them upset, is the fault theirs or mine? For whatever might have happened to me, and however drastic might turn out the end result, it is as much, if pot more a mystery to me as to anyone else. My thoughts were following this vein and

95

NEIL JORDAN


W o r k

i n

N E I L

H

P r o g r e s s

J O R D A N

ow long was it since I had walked between morning and night? The city seemed to curl under the sun like a scalded leech. The shadows were tall and black, the pavements white and empty. I crossed Westmoreland Street alone, the only movement was the rustling in the patches under the walls. Is the world to be left to me, I wondered, and such as me? A statue of scalding bronze pointed nowhere, his finger warped by the years of sunshine. I walked through the sleeping city, blinded by the glare, meeting no-one. I came to the river which had narrowed to a trickle in its caked bed. I walked beside it up by Parkgate Street. The Wellington Monument jabbed towards the white haze. I passed through the parched Hollow towards that long avenue, whose perspectives seemed to beckon towards splendors unseen. I saw then, after some time, a shape coming towards me, out of the melting tarmac. I heard the clip-clop of hooves and readied myself to spring into the bushes, in case I met horse and rider. But no, it was a deer who walked down towards me and stopped some feet away, as I did, to stare. I noted the grace of his rectangular jaw, the dapples that led from it to his sprouting homs. Do you

see things differentiy than me, I felt like asking, are your perspectives wider than mine, have you two planes of vision to carry everywhere you go? Whether I thought this or phrased it, he seemed to hear, for his lower jaw moved at odds with his .upper and he bounded past me, in two neat, languorous leaps, as if inviting me to imitate him. I merely watched him,, though, disappear into the city haze. As I walked on, the shape in front of me defined itself. I could see a glittering white facade with two proud pillars and the whorling fingers of a wrought-iron gate between. Walking further, more pillars defined themselves, white ones, stretching in pleasing harmonies from the facade of the house. It slowly dawned on me that it was the presidential palace. Then the memories came. They flooded on me. Like the dreams, the avenue was full of them. I leaned against a slim tall tree, with no foliage at alLexcept for an umbrella at the top. I saw my mother, walking towards it. She was wearing a narrow pleated jacket, with a flowered skirt. She was walking down it, holding my hand. I was pulling her towards the hedges beyond. She wished to view the palace from behind the gates, but I wanted to see. What was it I wanted to see? The Zoo, I realized. And I stepped out from under my tree-trunk, remembering. Enclosed by those hedges, I remembered, the animals would leap at that tall barbed wire, lining the path to the presidential palace. I crossed the avenue and walked along the hedge. I heard a few mournful snarls, as if one of the creatures had awoken for the first time in years. I came to a turnstile and walked through. The Swiss-style cottage was still there, but now it gave out no afternoon teas. The wires were everywhere covered in ivy, the bars were twined in eglantine, honeysuckle and in thick trembling vines that lined the roofs of the cages. I walked through the empty zoo and heard a few parakeets squawk, I saw the flash of a pink flamingo rising from a pool, I saw a treetop swarming with small green monkeys, but all the great animals seemed vanished. I felt a sudden wash of disappointment apd realized then that I had come here to find my beast's prototype. He was no cousin of those chattering monkeys or those squawking birds. I came to a pool then and saw a ripple break the covering of thick green slime. A seal's shape curled out of it, its back speckled, even coated in this weight of green. His glistening, troubled eyes made me feel more akin to him. Then he dived and left the surface unbroken onGe more. I was walking through the tunnel of vines„when I heard the footsteps. I had leapt behind the thickest of vines, before I even thought of my reaction. I looked down at my body and became slowly indignant Have I not the same rights as they (whoever they are), I thought? If my appearance causes them upset, is the fault theirs or mine? For whatever might have happened to me, and however drastic might turn out the end result, it is as much, if pot more a mystery to me as to anyone else. My thoughts were following this vein and

95

NEIL JORDAN


m it

|:i It It

building to a veritable fury, when I saw a figure down the corridor of vines and recognized it She was carrying a black handbag, swinging in the crook of her arm. She did not seem to be aware of it. She was wearing a fawn hat which made a circle of shadow round her face. I swear I could smell the perfume from where I was. Her heels clacked and clacked as she walked nearer, her eyes searched around constantly. I would swear she came here for the same purpose as I. When I stepped out infrontof her path, she didn't show fear or surprise, only a familiar gladness. I took her arm without any hesitation. We walked through the vines and out the other side, where once there was a reptilary. The shedded skins of its old inhabitants lay scattered about, colourless and wafer-thin. Her heels clattered off the tiled floor. She told me more about her life, but asked no questions at all about mine. Why I found this so comforting, I wasn't sure, but walking round the glass cases, my arm fell about her waist and hers around mine. We came to the exit sign and walked through, finding ourselves on a long green lawn. Even under the rolls of bandage and under her cotton dress, I could feel the bones of her hips and the movement of her skin above them. We sat down on the lawn. Take it off, she said, pulling off my eyeshade. Don't you mind, I asked, feeling drops of sweat down my outlandish forehead. She had a matter-of-fact air, however, that made such questions seem outlandish. You look tired, she said. I was tired. She took my head between her hands and laid it on her lap. She stroked my forehead and my matted hair then, while talking in a deep, hypnotic voice about herself and her thoughts. While she talked, although my back was to her, I could see the limpid shapes of her eyes before me. She talked of the complaints of everybody around her, of the hundreds of minor dissatisfactions they gave voice to daily. She herself, she told me, felt a dissatisfaction that was deep, but that she knew would never end, so what was the point in voicing it? She told me how heat appealed to her, she could wear light cotton dresses and always kept a colourful supply of wide brimmed hats for going out in the sun. She told me how her life to others seemed to follow no shape, since she never worried or guarded against the diminishing future. But she said that the fact was, that while she did accept most of what happened to her, she would have a premonition of important events sometime before they occurred, as if to prepare her for them, so she could take advantage of them. She had felt that when shefirstheard the name musk. I turned my head and looked up into her face. I put my hand on her knee as I did so. Take it off, she said, and began to unroll my bandages. I protested, but she whispered, in this persistent voice, that it could do no harm. She un-

Ii* BERKELEY FICTION REVIEW

96

wound it and unwound it till thefirsthairs began to appear between the white, and then the huge fist was exposed. She put my hand on her knee and then wrapped my elongated fingers round it. I felt her whole knee in the cup of my hand. She told me more about herself. I could see long machines cutting com in swathes as she talked. She talked of herself as if she were describing an acquaintance she had known for years, but never well enough. There was a girl, I gathered, before the woman. The thought that we all had some past was becoming difficult for me. But looking at her I could see her face diminish into the other she must have been. She stretched out her leg so that her knee straightened under my fist. Some bright green-coloured birds flew out of the cedars. I felt her knee change shape once more as she bent her leg at an angle under my chin and I began to talk about the beauty. My voice sounded deeper than ever and so I turned my head to see had it alarmed her. What I found was her eyes starring wide at me in a way that left no doubt that each word was understood. I told her about the sounds I had discovered beneath the surface of things, the hum from the girders, the mauve twilight. As the surface of everything becomes more loathsome, I said, thinking of the thing I was, the beauty seems to come from nowhere, a thing in itself. She leaned towards me and again I knew I had been understood. But the pleasure of that thought brought an anxiety with it, as to whether she had been. She took my face in her hands, she was smiling. How long was it, I wondered, since I had felt uncalloused skin against my own? The beauty came in a rush. Joy was the word I thought of, joy I knew then was that word for when beauty was not only seen or heard, but felt from inside. The sound of it was all around me. Her eyes were the brown of burnt-leather, with tiny flecks o f gold in the dark. They glowed as she bent her head down towards me and rested her lips on mine. The green birds must have flapped closer, because I heard their cries, one after the other so that they became a throaty purr. How I admired her boldness, in meeting my lips which must have changed beyond recognition. The rest of me must have learned a new suppleness, however, for while still lying on her lap, I managed to turn and raise her above me in the same embrace. Can I describe the garment that wrapped round the top of her legs ? She murmured again and smiled and again I thought of her descriptions of herself as not herself. She gave a small cry as of a bird released and all the green parrots flew into the air at once. Her limbs wrapped round me, each one seemed interchangeable, always with the same texture and I knew then that I had a soul for she met it, embraced it and breathed on it with her own. We lay there, brute and beauty, a small curtain of pollen seemed to fall on us as if cast-off from the blue skein above. There was a dry flowered smell. It was some time before we rose. My soul had twisted itself into a knot

97

NEIL JORDAN


m it

|:i It It

building to a veritable fury, when I saw a figure down the corridor of vines and recognized it She was carrying a black handbag, swinging in the crook of her arm. She did not seem to be aware of it. She was wearing a fawn hat which made a circle of shadow round her face. I swear I could smell the perfume from where I was. Her heels clacked and clacked as she walked nearer, her eyes searched around constantly. I would swear she came here for the same purpose as I. When I stepped out infrontof her path, she didn't show fear or surprise, only a familiar gladness. I took her arm without any hesitation. We walked through the vines and out the other side, where once there was a reptilary. The shedded skins of its old inhabitants lay scattered about, colourless and wafer-thin. Her heels clattered off the tiled floor. She told me more about her life, but asked no questions at all about mine. Why I found this so comforting, I wasn't sure, but walking round the glass cases, my arm fell about her waist and hers around mine. We came to the exit sign and walked through, finding ourselves on a long green lawn. Even under the rolls of bandage and under her cotton dress, I could feel the bones of her hips and the movement of her skin above them. We sat down on the lawn. Take it off, she said, pulling off my eyeshade. Don't you mind, I asked, feeling drops of sweat down my outlandish forehead. She had a matter-of-fact air, however, that made such questions seem outlandish. You look tired, she said. I was tired. She took my head between her hands and laid it on her lap. She stroked my forehead and my matted hair then, while talking in a deep, hypnotic voice about herself and her thoughts. While she talked, although my back was to her, I could see the limpid shapes of her eyes before me. She talked of the complaints of everybody around her, of the hundreds of minor dissatisfactions they gave voice to daily. She herself, she told me, felt a dissatisfaction that was deep, but that she knew would never end, so what was the point in voicing it? She told me how heat appealed to her, she could wear light cotton dresses and always kept a colourful supply of wide brimmed hats for going out in the sun. She told me how her life to others seemed to follow no shape, since she never worried or guarded against the diminishing future. But she said that the fact was, that while she did accept most of what happened to her, she would have a premonition of important events sometime before they occurred, as if to prepare her for them, so she could take advantage of them. She had felt that when shefirstheard the name musk. I turned my head and looked up into her face. I put my hand on her knee as I did so. Take it off, she said, and began to unroll my bandages. I protested, but she whispered, in this persistent voice, that it could do no harm. She un-

Ii* BERKELEY FICTION REVIEW

96

wound it and unwound it till thefirsthairs began to appear between the white, and then the huge fist was exposed. She put my hand on her knee and then wrapped my elongated fingers round it. I felt her whole knee in the cup of my hand. She told me more about herself. I could see long machines cutting com in swathes as she talked. She talked of herself as if she were describing an acquaintance she had known for years, but never well enough. There was a girl, I gathered, before the woman. The thought that we all had some past was becoming difficult for me. But looking at her I could see her face diminish into the other she must have been. She stretched out her leg so that her knee straightened under my fist. Some bright green-coloured birds flew out of the cedars. I felt her knee change shape once more as she bent her leg at an angle under my chin and I began to talk about the beauty. My voice sounded deeper than ever and so I turned my head to see had it alarmed her. What I found was her eyes starring wide at me in a way that left no doubt that each word was understood. I told her about the sounds I had discovered beneath the surface of things, the hum from the girders, the mauve twilight. As the surface of everything becomes more loathsome, I said, thinking of the thing I was, the beauty seems to come from nowhere, a thing in itself. She leaned towards me and again I knew I had been understood. But the pleasure of that thought brought an anxiety with it, as to whether she had been. She took my face in her hands, she was smiling. How long was it, I wondered, since I had felt uncalloused skin against my own? The beauty came in a rush. Joy was the word I thought of, joy I knew then was that word for when beauty was not only seen or heard, but felt from inside. The sound of it was all around me. Her eyes were the brown of burnt-leather, with tiny flecks o f gold in the dark. They glowed as she bent her head down towards me and rested her lips on mine. The green birds must have flapped closer, because I heard their cries, one after the other so that they became a throaty purr. How I admired her boldness, in meeting my lips which must have changed beyond recognition. The rest of me must have learned a new suppleness, however, for while still lying on her lap, I managed to turn and raise her above me in the same embrace. Can I describe the garment that wrapped round the top of her legs ? She murmured again and smiled and again I thought of her descriptions of herself as not herself. She gave a small cry as of a bird released and all the green parrots flew into the air at once. Her limbs wrapped round me, each one seemed interchangeable, always with the same texture and I knew then that I had a soul for she met it, embraced it and breathed on it with her own. We lay there, brute and beauty, a small curtain of pollen seemed to fall on us as if cast-off from the blue skein above. There was a dry flowered smell. It was some time before we rose. My soul had twisted itself into a knot

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that it would keep, for ever, I thought. It was shaped like a cup, it was the bluish colour of that smoothed glass one finds at the water's edge and the stem of the cup was twisted like a pair of hands. Then we walked back through the arboured tunnel. Her heels clicked once more against the path. She told me that the sides of her legs were wet. She rested her hand on the crook of my arm. Behind us tiny animals followed, unseen, only present by the noises they made, small whisperings and rustlings as if to celebrate the hour that had passed. We agreed to visit the reptile parlour, then to go for the time on our separate ways. Even as we walked through the shattered awning, I was made aware of further changes, by the minute. The skins of dead reptiles hung off the vines and as we walked beneath we set them swinging, collapsing the remaining panes into shivers of crystal. How wise of that genus, I remarked to her, to cast off a surface with each new season. She rubbed her nail up and down my forearm and told me about her childhood. I listened as she talked about books, how an unlettered farm girl would remove them from a large tea chest beneath her father's workbench and phrase to herself the long words, few of which she understood. They seemed a secret knowledge to her and when she came to work in galleries, her surprise at the fact that others shared it was only matched by their surprise at the freshness her childhood knowledge had retained. Several times I tried to answer but found my voice retreating once more to the deep cavern of my throat. As the words went, then panic came that the essence of the hour we had spent was vanishing, shedding itself in turn. She turned to me suddenly, as if noticing this, on instinct. It is time to go, she said. Before leaving she wrapped me carefully once more. We left by different entrances. I walked back down the long avenue and knew that each change that happened was reflected in the bowl-like essence that lay, I somehow knew, near the pivot between legs and torso. The avenue was empty of people, the shadows slept at the feet of trees, long and somehow full of ease. My feet moved over the grass, faster and then faster. I felt abandoned beneath those trees and dared to move out into the open fields. I saw a mark on my wrist and made out a number, in statuesque blue ink, barely smudged. She had written it there. Everything would be for the best, I felt, haying no knowledge of what awaited me.

Reprinted with the permission of Co-op Books ltd. Dublin.

BERKELEY FICTION REVIEW

98


I

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U

that it would keep, for ever, I thought. It was shaped like a cup, it was the bluish colour of that smoothed glass one finds at the water's edge and the stem of the cup was twisted like a pair of hands. Then we walked back through the arboured tunnel. Her heels clicked once more against the path. She told me that the sides of her legs were wet. She rested her hand on the crook of my arm. Behind us tiny animals followed, unseen, only present by the noises they made, small whisperings and rustlings as if to celebrate the hour that had passed. We agreed to visit the reptile parlour, then to go for the time on our separate ways. Even as we walked through the shattered awning, I was made aware of further changes, by the minute. The skins of dead reptiles hung off the vines and as we walked beneath we set them swinging, collapsing the remaining panes into shivers of crystal. How wise of that genus, I remarked to her, to cast off a surface with each new season. She rubbed her nail up and down my forearm and told me about her childhood. I listened as she talked about books, how an unlettered farm girl would remove them from a large tea chest beneath her father's workbench and phrase to herself the long words, few of which she understood. They seemed a secret knowledge to her and when she came to work in galleries, her surprise at the fact that others shared it was only matched by their surprise at the freshness her childhood knowledge had retained. Several times I tried to answer but found my voice retreating once more to the deep cavern of my throat. As the words went, then panic came that the essence of the hour we had spent was vanishing, shedding itself in turn. She turned to me suddenly, as if noticing this, on instinct. It is time to go, she said. Before leaving she wrapped me carefully once more. We left by different entrances. I walked back down the long avenue and knew that each change that happened was reflected in the bowl-like essence that lay, I somehow knew, near the pivot between legs and torso. The avenue was empty of people, the shadows slept at the feet of trees, long and somehow full of ease. My feet moved over the grass, faster and then faster. I felt abandoned beneath those trees and dared to move out into the open fields. I saw a mark on my wrist and made out a number, in statuesque blue ink, barely smudged. She had written it there. Everything would be for the best, I felt, haying no knowledge of what awaited me.

Reprinted with the permission of Co-op Books ltd. Dublin.

BERKELEY FICTION REVIEW

98


H

r

Review

S E A M U S T h e

H a w

H E A N E Y L a n t e r n

Published by Farrar Strauss-Giroux/$12.95

B Y

W

R O B E R T

T R A C E Y

hen Seamus Heaney read publicly from The Haw Lantern in Dublin for the first time, in June 1987, he read to an attentive house from the stage of the Gate Theatre. The stage was set up as Professor Higgins' study in Pygmalion, so that Heaney was surrounded by books and comfortable-looking Edwardian furnishings, but also by charts and models of the human vocal system. It was a graphic reminder of how much this poet has always respected and relished the integrity of words, of how lovingly he has gathered and used — or re-used — the language of the tribe, and of how in his poems words have their shape, their resonance, their weight Shaw's play itself provided an acute and ironic subtext. Pygmalion is an Irishman's play about the English language. It is at once a celebration of the language and a reproach to the English, who have wasted and neglected their most valuable possession, their precious heritage. They must relearn their language with teachers from Synge Street, of Lower Drumcondra — where, Stephen Dedalus tells us, they speak the best English. Heaney's poetry has always carried on that work, hefting each word and


H

r

Review

S E A M U S T h e

H a w

H E A N E Y L a n t e r n

Published by Farrar Strauss-Giroux/$12.95

B Y

W

R O B E R T

T R A C E Y

hen Seamus Heaney read publicly from The Haw Lantern in Dublin for the first time, in June 1987, he read to an attentive house from the stage of the Gate Theatre. The stage was set up as Professor Higgins' study in Pygmalion, so that Heaney was surrounded by books and comfortable-looking Edwardian furnishings, but also by charts and models of the human vocal system. It was a graphic reminder of how much this poet has always respected and relished the integrity of words, of how lovingly he has gathered and used — or re-used — the language of the tribe, and of how in his poems words have their shape, their resonance, their weight Shaw's play itself provided an acute and ironic subtext. Pygmalion is an Irishman's play about the English language. It is at once a celebration of the language and a reproach to the English, who have wasted and neglected their most valuable possession, their precious heritage. They must relearn their language with teachers from Synge Street, of Lower Drumcondra — where, Stephen Dedalus tells us, they speak the best English. Heaney's poetry has always carried on that work, hefting each word and


setting it in itsrightplace, making it resonate more vibrantly in the ear. "The English language / belongs to us," he has Joyce announcing in Station Island: "That subject people stuff is a cod's game." A haw lantern is the red berry of the hawthorn, "burning out of season ... a small light for small people." For Heaney, "When your breath plumes in the frost / it takes the roaming shape of Diogenes / with his lantern, seeking one just man." The berry remains itself, wears at once its standard and its Ulster name. The observer's breath creates an apparition, trailing clouds of association, a whole moral and cultural context of truth that challenges power. In the title poem, Heaney gives us a little primer of his own poetic method and themes. In his poems, he first makes us confront an actual object — a bullfrog, a bit of carved bone, a dish of oysters, a skunk — or an actual event: digging, churning. Then the imagination plays over it, and that object or event becomes something else — a moment of imperial privilege, the act of writing — without losing its original reality — Daphne at once a laurel and woman, real haws with imaginary philosophers under them. The result is more than metaphor, more than imaginative ingenuity. And here, as in so many of his poems, the metamorphosis is the moral. Heaney creates for himself a hostile interrogator, a skeptical judge. He arraigns himself and his reader before the scrutiny of that lantern, so you end up scrutinized from behind the haw he holds up at eye-level on its twig, and you flinch before its bonded pith and stone, its blood-prick that you wish would test and clear you, its pecked-at ripeness that scans you, then moves on. ("The Haw Lantern")

a new cartography and in it locates many goodly states and kingdoms, each with its challenge: the Frontier of Writing, Parable Island, the Republic of Conscience, the Land of the Unspoken, the Canton of Expectation, the Disappearing Island. These realms all lend their names to poems,framedbetween Alphabets which opens the book, and The Riddle, with which it ends. Alphabets brings the protagonist into the worlds of reading and writing, realized as landscapes, with Latin the "marbled and minatory" columns of a forum, and Irish the shade Of new calligraphy that felt like home. The letters of this alphabet were trees. The capitals were orchards in full bloom, The lines of script like briars coiled in ditches. At the end, the lambdas, deltas, and omegas that once sprinkled the landscape have vanished, but the poet still looks for "shape-note language, absolute on air / As Constantine's sky-lettered IN HOC SIGNO," words of power, words that are things, As from his small window The astronaut sees all he has sprung from, The risen, aqueous, singular, lucent O Like a magnified and buoyant ovum. Text becomes landscape, landscape becomes text, and each suggests how we must read the other — though the "mountain of the shifting names" on Parable Island warns us that we cannot always be sure we have read aright. There are no interpreters in the Republic of Conscience-, the Stone Grinder

The interrogatory lantern and the searching eye behind it reappear in one guise or another throughout this book. There is the scrutiny of soldiers at a road-block, of customs officers. Hailstones "refused permission," a friend "wanted the soul to ring true / And plain as a galvanized bucket / And would kick to test it," Hermes is a judging "God of the stone heap, where the stones were verdicts." The inhabitants of Parable Island fill their early manuscripts with "stylized eye-shapes and recurrent glosses / in which those old revisionists derive / the word island from roots in eye and land.." Heaney continually examines himself at the frontiers of his own realm of language, then grudgingly permits himself to enter — as in Station Island he created for himself an ordeal, encountering apparitions from his own past who challenge his lapses and inadequacies. In the poems of The Haw Lantern, Heaney's self-interrogation becomes a questioning of the act of poetry, and indeed of the act of writing. He creates

In Canton of Expectation, Heaney charts the progress of change in Northern Ireland, a shift from "a land of optative moods, / under high, banked clouds of resignation" guarded by the "angel of passivity" to a "change of mood . . . a grammar of imperatives" that "would banish the conditional for ever" — achieved by education, by reading and writing, young people "paving and pencilling theirfirstcauseways / across the prescribed texts. The paving stones / of quadrangles came next" The image draws on Heaney's early

102

BERKELEY FICTION REVDgW

REVIEW: THE HAW LANTERN

prepared my surface to survive what came over it— cartographers, printmakers, all that lining and inking. I ordained opacities and they haruspicated.

103


setting it in itsrightplace, making it resonate more vibrantly in the ear. "The English language / belongs to us," he has Joyce announcing in Station Island: "That subject people stuff is a cod's game." A haw lantern is the red berry of the hawthorn, "burning out of season ... a small light for small people." For Heaney, "When your breath plumes in the frost / it takes the roaming shape of Diogenes / with his lantern, seeking one just man." The berry remains itself, wears at once its standard and its Ulster name. The observer's breath creates an apparition, trailing clouds of association, a whole moral and cultural context of truth that challenges power. In the title poem, Heaney gives us a little primer of his own poetic method and themes. In his poems, he first makes us confront an actual object — a bullfrog, a bit of carved bone, a dish of oysters, a skunk — or an actual event: digging, churning. Then the imagination plays over it, and that object or event becomes something else — a moment of imperial privilege, the act of writing — without losing its original reality — Daphne at once a laurel and woman, real haws with imaginary philosophers under them. The result is more than metaphor, more than imaginative ingenuity. And here, as in so many of his poems, the metamorphosis is the moral. Heaney creates for himself a hostile interrogator, a skeptical judge. He arraigns himself and his reader before the scrutiny of that lantern, so you end up scrutinized from behind the haw he holds up at eye-level on its twig, and you flinch before its bonded pith and stone, its blood-prick that you wish would test and clear you, its pecked-at ripeness that scans you, then moves on. ("The Haw Lantern")

a new cartography and in it locates many goodly states and kingdoms, each with its challenge: the Frontier of Writing, Parable Island, the Republic of Conscience, the Land of the Unspoken, the Canton of Expectation, the Disappearing Island. These realms all lend their names to poems,framedbetween Alphabets which opens the book, and The Riddle, with which it ends. Alphabets brings the protagonist into the worlds of reading and writing, realized as landscapes, with Latin the "marbled and minatory" columns of a forum, and Irish the shade Of new calligraphy that felt like home. The letters of this alphabet were trees. The capitals were orchards in full bloom, The lines of script like briars coiled in ditches. At the end, the lambdas, deltas, and omegas that once sprinkled the landscape have vanished, but the poet still looks for "shape-note language, absolute on air / As Constantine's sky-lettered IN HOC SIGNO," words of power, words that are things, As from his small window The astronaut sees all he has sprung from, The risen, aqueous, singular, lucent O Like a magnified and buoyant ovum. Text becomes landscape, landscape becomes text, and each suggests how we must read the other — though the "mountain of the shifting names" on Parable Island warns us that we cannot always be sure we have read aright. There are no interpreters in the Republic of Conscience-, the Stone Grinder

The interrogatory lantern and the searching eye behind it reappear in one guise or another throughout this book. There is the scrutiny of soldiers at a road-block, of customs officers. Hailstones "refused permission," a friend "wanted the soul to ring true / And plain as a galvanized bucket / And would kick to test it," Hermes is a judging "God of the stone heap, where the stones were verdicts." The inhabitants of Parable Island fill their early manuscripts with "stylized eye-shapes and recurrent glosses / in which those old revisionists derive / the word island from roots in eye and land.." Heaney continually examines himself at the frontiers of his own realm of language, then grudgingly permits himself to enter — as in Station Island he created for himself an ordeal, encountering apparitions from his own past who challenge his lapses and inadequacies. In the poems of The Haw Lantern, Heaney's self-interrogation becomes a questioning of the act of poetry, and indeed of the act of writing. He creates

In Canton of Expectation, Heaney charts the progress of change in Northern Ireland, a shift from "a land of optative moods, / under high, banked clouds of resignation" guarded by the "angel of passivity" to a "change of mood . . . a grammar of imperatives" that "would banish the conditional for ever" — achieved by education, by reading and writing, young people "paving and pencilling theirfirstcauseways / across the prescribed texts. The paving stones / of quadrangles came next" The image draws on Heaney's early

102

BERKELEY FICTION REVDgW

REVIEW: THE HAW LANTERN

prepared my surface to survive what came over it— cartographers, printmakers, all that lining and inking. I ordained opacities and they haruspicated.

103


equation of digging and writing, the puns on "mood" and "prescribed" repeat his delight in rooting through origins. His earlier poetry returns again and again to the soft preserving bog. "I love unshowy pewter, my soft option/ when it comes to the metals," he tells us in Shelf Life (Station Island ), and shows us a granite chip from Joyce's tower, thisfleckled insoluble brilliant I keep but feel little in common with — a kind of stone age circumcising knife, a Calvin edge in my complaisant pith. But in The Haw Lantern stone recurs, fulfilling the vow Heaney makes at the end of Station Island, when he confronts "a drinking deer . . . cut into rock" deep in the Lascaux caves, and promises, "For my book of changes / 1 would mediate / that stone-faced vigil." Stone becomes image, language, text. Hermes, "God of the stone heap," is also a winged god of words. Heaney brings song arjd stone together in his commemorative poem for Robert Fitzgerald, a gifted translator of Greek literature and Heaney's predecessor as Boylston Professor at Harvard. He remembers a climactic moment from theOdyssey, when the returned Odysseus proves at once his strength, his mastery, and his identity by bending the great bow and shooting an arrow through the socket-holes of a row of axeheads. Heaney shows us the bronze arrow threading the stone axeheads, in an image that remembers his earlier digging subterranean poems and affirms that new sky-bom persona that he hints at in the Hercules I Antaeus poems of North (1975), and releases in Sweeney Astray and the Sweeney Redivivus sequence of Station Island. The sockets are likened to "the squared/ Doorway to a megalithic tomb," and its endless invitation onwards:

Leaves a whispered breath in every socket. The great test over, while the gut's still humming, This time it travels out of all knowing Perfectly aimed towards the vacant centre. That vacant centre, the space the arrow's whisper fills, is paradoxically the heart of this book. Clearances, a moving sequence of eight sonnets in which Heaney commemorates his mother's life and death, evokes her presence by depicting her absence. Here too we begin with mineral hardness, a stone hurled at a great-grandmother who had become a Catholic, his mother's teaching a technique as useful for poetry as forfiremaking:"How easily the biggest coal block split / If you got the grain and hammer angledright."The poems fill absence with presence, with moments of shared intimacy, with Heaney's awareness that eloquence can at once preserve and betray, with death as the opening of a space: And we all knew one thing by being there. The space we stood around had been emptied Into us to keep, it penetrated Clearances that suddenly stood open. High cries were felled and a pure change happened. In the final sonnet there is a vanished chestnut tree, a subtle echo perhaps of Yeats' "great rooted blossomer" and its association with mothers and children, "Its heft and hush become a bright nowhere, / A soul ramifying and forever / Silent, beyond silence listened for." With The Haw Lantern, Heaney confronts, engages that silence.

There is no last door, Just threshold stone, stone jambs, stone crossbeam Repeating enter, enter, enter, enter. Lintel and uprightflypast in the dark. The image returns us to the oldest and most haunted place in Ireland, the vast tomb at Newgrange, those "great chambers of Boyne" evoked in "Funeral Rites" (North). The hero's moment of achieved mastery becomes a song: After the bowstring sang a swallow's note, The arrow whose migration is its mark

104

REVIEW: THE HAW LANTERN

BERKELEY FICTION REVIEW

105


equation of digging and writing, the puns on "mood" and "prescribed" repeat his delight in rooting through origins. His earlier poetry returns again and again to the soft preserving bog. "I love unshowy pewter, my soft option/ when it comes to the metals," he tells us in Shelf Life (Station Island ), and shows us a granite chip from Joyce's tower, thisfleckled insoluble brilliant I keep but feel little in common with — a kind of stone age circumcising knife, a Calvin edge in my complaisant pith. But in The Haw Lantern stone recurs, fulfilling the vow Heaney makes at the end of Station Island, when he confronts "a drinking deer . . . cut into rock" deep in the Lascaux caves, and promises, "For my book of changes / 1 would mediate / that stone-faced vigil." Stone becomes image, language, text. Hermes, "God of the stone heap," is also a winged god of words. Heaney brings song arjd stone together in his commemorative poem for Robert Fitzgerald, a gifted translator of Greek literature and Heaney's predecessor as Boylston Professor at Harvard. He remembers a climactic moment from theOdyssey, when the returned Odysseus proves at once his strength, his mastery, and his identity by bending the great bow and shooting an arrow through the socket-holes of a row of axeheads. Heaney shows us the bronze arrow threading the stone axeheads, in an image that remembers his earlier digging subterranean poems and affirms that new sky-bom persona that he hints at in the Hercules I Antaeus poems of North (1975), and releases in Sweeney Astray and the Sweeney Redivivus sequence of Station Island. The sockets are likened to "the squared/ Doorway to a megalithic tomb," and its endless invitation onwards:

Leaves a whispered breath in every socket. The great test over, while the gut's still humming, This time it travels out of all knowing Perfectly aimed towards the vacant centre. That vacant centre, the space the arrow's whisper fills, is paradoxically the heart of this book. Clearances, a moving sequence of eight sonnets in which Heaney commemorates his mother's life and death, evokes her presence by depicting her absence. Here too we begin with mineral hardness, a stone hurled at a great-grandmother who had become a Catholic, his mother's teaching a technique as useful for poetry as forfiremaking:"How easily the biggest coal block split / If you got the grain and hammer angledright."The poems fill absence with presence, with moments of shared intimacy, with Heaney's awareness that eloquence can at once preserve and betray, with death as the opening of a space: And we all knew one thing by being there. The space we stood around had been emptied Into us to keep, it penetrated Clearances that suddenly stood open. High cries were felled and a pure change happened. In the final sonnet there is a vanished chestnut tree, a subtle echo perhaps of Yeats' "great rooted blossomer" and its association with mothers and children, "Its heft and hush become a bright nowhere, / A soul ramifying and forever / Silent, beyond silence listened for." With The Haw Lantern, Heaney confronts, engages that silence.

There is no last door, Just threshold stone, stone jambs, stone crossbeam Repeating enter, enter, enter, enter. Lintel and uprightflypast in the dark. The image returns us to the oldest and most haunted place in Ireland, the vast tomb at Newgrange, those "great chambers of Boyne" evoked in "Funeral Rites" (North). The hero's moment of achieved mastery becomes a song: After the bowstring sang a swallow's note, The arrow whose migration is its mark

104

REVIEW: THE HAW LANTERN

BERKELEY FICTION REVIEW

105